Evans is ready for his next chapter

Salem's R.J. Evans, right, shakes hands with UConn coach Kevin Ollie Saturday at graduate school ceremonies in Storrs.
Salem's R.J. Evans, right, shakes hands with UConn coach Kevin Ollie Saturday at graduate school ceremonies in Storrs. photo courtesy of uconn athletics

R.J. Evans recently completed one significant journey, graduating from UConn last weekend.

Now he's beginning to map out another adventure.

He's exploring possible routes, including playing professional basketball overseas, attending law school and coaching.

"The hard thing is picking one," Evans said Wednesday.

And, if he's looking to go in a completely different direction, he could be a juggler.

He perfected that art during one busy year at UConn, earning a master's degree in educational psychology while also juggling the demands of playing major Division I college basketball and serving as a valuable team leader.

"I couldn't ask for a better year," Evans said. "I had a great season. I got a degree to go along with it, and I joined a family. So you can't really beat this year."

Evans made quite an impression on Scott W. Brown, his academic advisor and UConn's NCAA faculty athletics representative. Brown considers Evans a great role model.

"It's very rare to have somebody complete 30 credits of graduate work within 12 months...," Brown said. "R.J. is a guy who gets it done. He put his head down and barreled through."

Evans, a Norwich Free Academy graduate from Salem, not only got it done, he scored high marks, posting an impressive 3.6 grade point average.

When he graduated from Holy Cross and enrolled at UConn last year with one year of eligibility left, he figured it would take two years to finish his master's program.

Through hard work and determination, Evans exceeded his own expectations. He completed what he called "educational psychology boot camp" last summer, knocking off nine credits.

"That gave him a huge leg up," Brown said.

Evans, a vocal leader on the court, quietly went about his business in the classroom. He kept grinding away during basketball season, moving closer to the finish line.

Brown regularly received positive reports from Evans' professors.

"He's got a great mind," Brown said. "He's analytical. He's thinks well on his feet. But I think for him there was some hesitancy, being in graduate school sitting next to other master's and PhD students. He was quiet and reserved.

"I know he got the highest grade in his research methods course. The professor, who is our department head, said he couldn't have said 50 words all semester."

At times, Evans was intimidated, because he lacked experience that his fellow students possessed. But he eventually found his comfort zone. He praised his professors and academic advisors for helping him balance the demands of academics and athletics.

School may be over, but his plate remains full.

He's working out at Gampel Pavilion, hoping to play professionally in either England or Ireland and also attend school there. He's a substitute teacher at his alma mater, NFA. Brown plans to hire Evans as a teacher's assistant during summer school at UConn.

A few times a week, he volunteers at a law office in Willimantic specializing in disability. He will take the law school entrance exam in June.

"That's what I'm really interested in," said Evans, who turns 23 on Monday. "I've always had a passion for that. Besides basketball, that's probably my number one thing."

Coaching is another option, but not until his playing days are over.

"I feel I have a love for the game and a passion for coaching," Evans said. "A lot of people who have coaching experience tell me I could be a good coach."

Brown believes that Evans will succeed in whatever route that he takes.

"I told him you can do whatever you decide to do because you sneak up on people," Brown said. "He's not one that's going to shout, `here I come.' You're just going to all of a sudden see him at the top of the line and say, `how did he get there?' "

g.keefe@theday.com

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