INDIANAPOLIS — Every time RayQuan Evans steps on the basketball court, he’s representing more than just the names on the front or back of his Florida State jersey.
A member of the Crow Tribe and a Billings Skyview High School graduate, Evans has a whole state behind him.
"It’s amazing. Just knowing that I got so many people behind me back home, and for everybody to be able to watch me play in this, I feel like it’ll inspire kids to work hard and hopefully one day that they can be on the same level, as well,” Evans said in a phone interview with MTN Sports before the NCAA Tournament tipped off last week. “That’s my goal, just to continue to work hard so kids back home can see that they have those chances and those opportunities if they put the work in.”
Evans is entering rare company this week, becoming one of the few Montanans — especially in recent memory — to play in the Sweet 16. Florida State defeated UNC Greensboro 64-54 in the first round and Colorado 71-53 in the second to advance to the Round of 16 for the third consecutive tournament.
The Seminoles defeated No. 4-seeded Gonzaga to advance to the Elite 8 in the 2018 tournament and lost to the top-seeded Bulldogs in the Sweet 16 in 2019. The 2020 tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Florida State would have certainly been dancing in that tournament, too. The Seminoles were 26-5 and ranked fourth in the country when games were halted.
They’ve had a solid 2020-21 season and carry an 18-6 record into Sunday’s matchup with No. 1-seeded Michigan, and Evans has played a big part in that. He’s now started 17 games this season, including both Seminole wins in the NCAA Tournament, and is part of a 10-player rotation for coach Leonard Hamilton.
“One thing we do do well is, I feel like we trust each other,” Evans said. “We play a system where you’re going to give it all you got for a couple minutes and then you got to come out — just going out there, giving it everything you got for a couple minutes, trusting your teammates.”
To that end, Florida State’s offensive balance is a sight to behold. M.J. Walker leads the Seminoles with 12.3 points per game, and he’s followed by RaiQuan Gray (12.0 points per game), Scottie Barnes (10.4) and Anthony Polite (10.2) in double digits. Evans averages 5.2 points per game and has transitioned toward a role more geared toward facilitating.
It’s a unique system employed by Hamilton, but it’s worked over a long career. Hamilton is in his 19th season leading Florida State, where he has accumulated 378 wins, the most by any coach in program history. Hamilton is also the fifth all-time winningest coach in ACC history.
Under Hamilton’s guidance, Florida State is one of just three teams in NCAA Division I men’s basketball — Michigan and Gonzaga are the others — to advance to the Sweet 16 in each of the past three tournaments.
“It’s been amazing (playing for Hamilton). His resume is amazing,” Evans said. “The things that he’s done, the experiences that he’s had, I still feel like he doesn’t get enough respect that he deserves. He’s a great coach, he’s always trying to do what’s best for the team, for his staff, and it’s just amazing being able to play for him.”
Florida State and Michigan (22-4) tip off at 3 p.m. (MT) Sunday on MTN stations across Montana.