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Trip to Guinea leads Evans to becoming National Elephants new leader
BENGUELA (Angola) - Guinea's hunt for their future point guard traces back to the November 2020 FIBA window.
The National Elephants were not playing during that break but Guinea forward Ousmane Drame and Shannon Evans took a trip to the western African country. That would eventually lead to Evans taking the reins as playmaker of the team and starring at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 African Qualifiers
"SHANNON EVANS IS A PLAYMAKER. HE CAN SCORE EVERY TIME, BUT HE THINKS ABOUT THE TEAM FIRST. OFF THE COURT, HE'S A GREAT GUY. PERFECT FOR US. HE'S NEVER MAD - ONLY POSITIVE. HE GIVES US WHAT WE NEED."
Drame and Evans were teammates at French club Elan Bearnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez and they took advantage of the time away from the game last autumn to head to the former's homeland.
"He told me about his country and how they wanted to keep building basketball. I went to visit Guinea, and I wanted to help inspire kids to chase after their dreams while helping establish the basketball brand," Evans recalled.
Ousmane Ousmane Drame
Drame, who starred for Guinea in the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 Qualifiers in February 2020 and February 2021, asked Evans what he thought about playing for the National Elephants.
"It didn't take much convincing. It was more of an honor," Evans said.
Fast forward to Benguela about a year after visiting Guinea with Drame and Evans was playing all 40 minutes in Guinea's first game against Central African Republic and collected 20 points, 4 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 steals in guiding the team to a 79-71 win - the country's first-ever World Cup Qualifiers win after going 0-6 ahead of the 2019 global showcase.
"It feels great. A lot of pride playing for a whole country instead of just a club. It's very important and I’m proud to be part of the Guinea national team," said Evans, who ended up averaging 19.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.0 steals over the three games in Angola where Guinea also lost to Angola and Cote d’Ivoire.
"I really enjoyed my first experience. I think African basketball is very physical and has a lot of great athletes. The biggest thing I learned is more about my teammates in Guinea and how they compete on the everyday basis. That is something I can relate to."
Guinea national team coach Zeljko Zecevic was definitely impressed with his 27-year-old playmaker - in many, many regards.
"We have been looking for a long time at the point guard position - where Guinea have had problems in the past. I think we hit Bingo," Zecevic said. "We found the one guy who is first of all an extremely positive character. Secondly, he is a very kind person. Third, he's a points scorer but not selfish. Fourth, he's a guy who shares the positivity inside the team. This is immensely important. The player who is the best player on the team is always positive. This is very good and I am so happy."
Zecevic said his other players were also happy with Evans, who is playing for Spanish top flight side Coosur Real Betis Sevilla.
"The guys on the national team are very happy to have the pleasure of playing with a guy who shows the quality on the one side and shows the human quality on the other side. We are very happy about that. And I am sure that we can only be better in the future," the coach said.
Guinean big man Daouda Conde echoed Coach Zecevic's sentiment.
"This kind of competition needs this type of player. He’s a beast. He facilitates everything for us. You know when you don’t have to look back and see if the point guard has lost the ball, you can be focused on the things you have to do," said the 29-year-old Conde, who played for the Guinea national team for the first time at the FIBA AfroBasket 2017.
"Shannon Evans is a playmaker. He can score every time, but he thinks about the team first. Off the court, he's a great guy. Perfect for us. He's never mad - only positive. He gives us what we need. I want to thank him for coming. Hopefully he will come again. We're happy," Conde said.
Evans said he prides himself on looking on the bright side of things.
"Positivity and being an 'energy giver' is something I always enjoyed doing - not only in basketball but also in life. It cost zero dollars to make others feel good," he said. "And I try to do that as much as possible. I feel like if we all can do that we can help change this world we live in today. So I really appreciate coach kind words on my approach."
Evans added: "Another thing that I learned is to be more physical and that's probably the number one thing I'll bring to the next window - physicality."
Guinea fans can definitely be happy to hear that from their now current future point guard leader.