Family dinners started getting awkward for Ryan Evans in the spring of 2008.
For a regular student, the chance of getting an athletic scholarship is less than 1-in-150.
Among his relatives, it was an innocuous hurdle.
His cousins, Quinn Evans and Glenn Love, had already secured full-ride football scholarships to Stanford and UCLA, respectively. His father, Greg, wrestled at Minnesota. His uncle, David, wrestled at Wisconsin.
With only a few months left of high school, the pressure was building for the former Hamilton basketball player.
“It’s kind of a culture within the family — it’s what’s expected — and I’m the only one at the dinner table without a full ride,” Evans said. “They never teased me about it, but you knew it was there.”
Evans’ mom, Roxane, was worried. She implored him to start filling out college applications in the event basketball didn’t work out. Evans was enjoying a good senior season, but he blossomed late and wasn’t receiving much attention. At football-rich Hamilton, there were constant reminders of his situation.
“You remember (former Hamilton and Arizona State wide receiver) Gerell Robinson, right?” Evans said. “Gerell probably had 50-something offers. He could have gone anywhere. I remember talking to my dad and telling him about Gerell’s offers. But my dad told me, ‘All you need is one.’”
The forward finally got his. A family friend with Wisconsin ties came to Arizona that year to watch the Super Bowl. He attended a Hamilton basketball game and was impressed by Evans. He contacted Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore, who became intrigued.
Moore flew down to watch Hamilton in the state quarterfinals and arranged for Evans to fly to Madison for an unofficial visit immediately after the season.
By the end of the visit, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan offered the scholarship.
Once news of that broke, other Big Ten and then-Pac-10 schools became interested. But Evans had the chance he always wanted, and he jumped on it.
“When Bo extended that offer, it was one of the best days of my life,” Evans said. “For a school like Wisconsin to see something in me, I wanted to stay loyal to them.”
Evans’ high school and college trajectories have been mirror images.
In high school, he was cut by Desert Vista as a sophomore and averaged single digits in points as a junior at Hamilton. By the time he was a senior, though, Evans became a first-team All-Tribune selection, averaging 18.4 points and 7.4 rebounds while leading the Huskies to the 5A Division I state semifinals.
If not for a controversial technical foul call late against St. Mary’s, Hamilton could have played for a state championship.
“It was a terrible feeling getting cheated out of the game like that,” he said.
Evans’ disappointment was muted by his college future, although it took awhile.
He redshirted his first season at Wisconsin, and had modest 3.5 and 2.8 point-per-game averages his first two years, playing fewer than 15 minutes per game both years.
This season, Evans has taken on a critical role.
He averages 11.1 points and 6.9 rebounds for a Wisconsin team that was in the Big Ten mix all season and has now advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
Evans had a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds in a second-round win over Montana and 11 points, five rebounds and four assists in a 60-57 victory over Vanderbilt in the round of 32.
The Badgers will face No. 1 seed Syracuse on Thursday with an Elite Eight berth on the line. Evans can’t help but soak in the position he’s in now, continually fueled by the skeptics who doubted him.
“There’s so many people that have wanted me to fail, and I’ve wanted to prove them all wrong,” Evans said. “I’ve never doubted myself. In high school, I knew that if one person would just give me a chance I’d make the most of it. The time and work I was putting in, a lot of people don’t see that, after practice, in the mornings, at night. All of the little things accumulated. I just wanted one person to give me a chance, and Bo did that.”