Tuesday, February 07, 2012

SPORTS >> Evans leads at junior college

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville native Mike Evans is larger than life at North Arkansas College in Harrison, and he has the billboard to prove it.

Of course his 6-8 stature doesn’t hurt things for the starting sophomore post player on the NorthArk Pioneers basketball team under longtime coach Jerry Thomason. Evans leads the team in scoring, blocking and rebounding, averaging 12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game, which has helped the Pioneers to a 16-6 record so far this season.

The school’s advertising theme which features faculty members working with students in their field on billboards are prevalent in the northwest Arkansas area. Evans got the nod to be featured alongside Thomason as one of three returning sophomores and team captain this year.

“He’s got a little bit of height, and he’s got a good work ethic,” Thomason said of Evans. He’s gotten a lot stronger while he’s been up here. He’s our leading scorer and top rebounder, so he’s been real good for us.”

The Pioneers are an independent team as one of only two public two-year institutions that fields a competitive basketball team, along with West Memphis. Though they do not take part in any conference race, they do compete for a chance to take part in the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament in late March.

In fact, NorthArk will host the NJCAA sub-district tournament on March 3, with the district finals being held in Clarendon, Tex. on March 11. The winner there gets to move on to the NJCAA Nationals in Danville, Ill., March 20-24.

Thomason, who has led the Pioneers to six straight regional championships during his 23-year tenure at the school, says he feels good about his team’s chances again this year.

“I thought we would be pretty good,” Thomason said. “I knew we would have a decent ball club, but you never know how long it’s going to take them to have chemistry together. We had three sophomores that were a good foundation.

“Our depth has really improved since semester. I’m not surprised that we’ve had success, but I guess I’m a little surprised that we are 16-6. I never thought we would have that kind of record, but we have pulled out some close games.”

Evans got his first taste of basketball success as the starting post player on the North Pulaski Junior Falcons freshman team under coach Ben Belton in 2007, as the team went on to claim the River City Conference championship that year. Evans then went on to play high-school basketball at North Little Rock, where he eventually attracted the interest of Thomason and the NorthArk staff.

“It’s definitely different up here,” Evans said of college life in northwest Arkansas. “It’s only a two-and-a-half hour drive, but it’s a lot different.”

Though Evans downplays the significance of being featured on a billboard promoting the school, simply saying it’s “pretty cool,” Thomason said the advertisement is a good representation of the program.

“It’s not unique to our school,” Thomason said. “There are five or six of them, and each one has a faculty member and a student. It is promoting our school and letting them know what we have to offer here, and we wanted to make sure they knew that athletics was one one of them.”

Evans will have to move on after this year, and is in the process of finding a four-year school where he can play basketball with the help of his father Steve Evans, who has had a big hand in Mike’s career.

“He helps me a lot,” Evans said. “I don’t know where I would be without my dad.”

But for the six remaining regular-season games and however far NorthArk gets in the postseason, Evans is still a Pioneer for the time being. His role as team captain will be even more vital as the games increase in importance.

“He’s a team player, and he works very hard,” Thomason said. “He does everything right, and he’s a good team leader.”