When Bobby Hurley headed home following his freshman year at Duke he did so with his tail between his legs.
Hurley’s performance against UNLV in the national championship game had been atypically awful. He scored just two points and turned the ball over five times in a resounding defeat. He had fallen well short of everyone’s expectations, most notably his own, and it hurt something fierce.
So if Shannon Evans is looking for a compassionate and understanding ear in the wake of his UB debut he need look no further than his head coach. Hurley knows what it’s like to struggle in a moment highly anticipated. He knows how some days the game that most times comes naturally can suddenly overwhelm.
UB’s foul trouble forced Evans, a highly touted true freshman guard from Suffolk, Va., to play extended minutes Friday night as Hurley coaching era opened with an 82-58 loss at Texas A&M. His performance was not unlike the one that Hurley took home following his own freshman season. Evans missed all five of his shots. He turned it over a game-high five times against three assists. Surely he’d have dreamed up a more appealing script if he could only had managed some rest on the eve of his college debut.
“It was hard,” Evans said. “I really couldn’t sleep last night I was so excited. I was nervous at first but I was good after I got my feet wet.”
Evans drew rave reviews in the weeks leading up to the opener. Quick. Confident. Daring. Talented. Those were some of the words being thrown around by his teammates. But against the Aggies Evans performed as if he feared making mistakes which, of course, led to making mistakes.
With point guard Jarod Oldham in foul trouble, Hurley was denied the option of bringing Evans to the sidelines and relieving the pressure. He needed him on the floor for 22 minutes.
“I think a lot of Shannon,” Hurley said. “I love his fearlessness and how he competes and how hard he plays. He’s a freshman and I knew how excited he was to play. He’s got so much personality for the game.
“But it’s hard. Your first game in this environment against this level of team, he didn’t have what I’ve been seeing in practice from him. But it’s not surprising for a freshman and with Jarod being in foul trouble, I needed him on the floor, so I couldn’t even bring him over just to try and just bring him back and play with a little more poise and composure.”
Long term, who knows, this game against the Aggies could be the one that drives Evans to new heights. That’s how it worked with his coach. Hurley went back to Jersey City the summer after his UNLV clunker and listened to the detractors tell him that he was over his head at the game’s highest level, that he was the one holding Duke back. Two games in the Final Four and he hadn’t made so much as one field goal.
The following year Hurley hit what Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski calls the biggest shot in the history of the program as the Blue Devils rallied to upend the heavily favored Runnin’ Rebels in the national semifinals. Payback had been achieved and Hurley proceeded to lead Duke to the first of two straight national titles.
‘’It was really a terrible experience,” Hurley said late in his sophomore season of his freshman finale. “I’ve never played in a game where I’ve been embarrassed that bad. It seems like there were just waves and waves of people coming at you constantly.”
The transition from high school senior to Division I point guard is among the more challenging in college sports. There’s no place to hide, no short cut to acclimating.
“I’m ready to keep going,” Evans said , maybe mindful, maybe not, of how well his coach can relate.