Hillsdale assistant Evans inexperienced, but says he’s ready to be head men’s basketball coach at Northern Michigan

MARQUETTE – Ferris State head basketball coach Bill Sall has been with the Bulldogs for 11 seasons.

Valley City State (N.D) head coach Jeff Kaminsky has been a head coach at the NAIA and NCAA Division III level for a combined 19 years.

Winona State’s (Minn.) Tom Brown has no head coaching experience at the collegiate level, but he has been with the Warriors for 15 years, most recently as associate head coach.

Dan Evans, on the other hand, has only been an assistant coach at Hillsdale for six seasons and that’s where his coaching resume ends.

Despite that kind of inexperience, especially when compared to the other three finalists vying to become the next head men’s basketball coach at Northern Michigan University, Evans said Monday during a meet and greet with local media and community members that he is ready to be a head coach at the NCAA Div. II level.

“I do believe I’m ready,” Evans said. “I know I’m pretty young in the grand scheme of things. Certainly in our profession I’m pretty darn young, but I’ve been blessed to work for and play for (Hillsdale) coach John Tharp.”

Evans played three seasons for Tharp at NCAA Div. III Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., before being hired by Tharp when he took over the Chargers’ basketball program six years ago.

As Tharp’s assistant, Evans has overseen and taken part in everything, including fundraising, alumni relations, budget management, on-court practice preparation and execution, game strategy and preparation and of course, recruiting.

“Since I’ve joined his staff when he first arrived there, I have been given a lot of responsibility,” Evans said. “Not all assistant coaches can say they have had some of the responsibilities I’ve been able to undertake. A lot of us (assistants), our responsibility is recruiting and some on-court instruction and not much else in relation to the development of the program.

“I’ve been lucky to do just about everything.”

Due to Hillsdale College’s high academic standards – the incoming 2011 freshmen class averaged a high school grade-point average of 3.75 – Evans said he and his fellow Charger coaches are spread thin, recruiting Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana.

As head coach at NMU, Evans said he would focus on Michigan and Wisconsin while occasionally dipping into the Chicago area where he grew up in the Northwest suburbs.

“We will recruit Michigan kids. We will recruit Wisconsin kids,” Evans said. “Those will be our primary recruiting grounds and we will try to grow them as a staff as we move forward.”

Evans said NMU can play on an fairly even playing field in Wisconsin, which only has four NCAA Div. I basketball schools and a single Div. II university in Wisconsin-Parkside.

Michigan is a little different, however, with seven Div. I basketball schools, plus nine GLIAC members in Div. II.

While recruiting in an overcrowded basketball state like Michigan can be tough, Evans said he and Tharp have begun to separate tiny Hillsdale from the rest of the pack.

In six seasons, the little 1,400-student college in a town of just over 8,000 people has compiled a 107-60 record. The Chargers won their first GLIAC regular season title in 30 years in 2011-12 and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade that same season.

“What we found at Hillsdale is that over time, people are more than willing to pass up other schools if they like your program better,” Evans said. “If a kid comes up here and they look at us and they say, ‘These are the kind coaches I want to be around, this is perhaps the way I want to play, it’s the community I want to be a part of,’ they’ll pass up any school in the country.

“To build it to that point takes time. It’s not something that – if it’s a situation I was lucky enough to come to – three weeks from now, we’re going to be able to win every kid against Grand Valley (State) or Wayne (State) or Hillsdale or any other school perhaps. The key is you keep at it and you keep recruiting the right type of kids.

“We’ve been able to get to that point at Hillsdale so we’ve been able to win those battles. It didn’t happen our first year at Hillsdale. It didn’t happen our second year, but at some point, you just kind of get past that hurdle.”

The right type of student-athlete for Evans is a high school senior that is not only committed to playing basketball for 4-5 years, but one who is also interested in going to class for 4-5 years and leaving NMU with a degree.

Evans said Div. I and II transfers may be necessary in the first few years to fill out the roster and field a team, however, he’ll only accept transfers that can graduate.

As for junior college transfers, Evans said he won’t recruit them at all.

“I believe very strongly that we need to recruit high-character kids who want to succeed on the court and are very competitive on the court, but they want to be competitive in the classroom and they want to be competitive in the community in the sense of representing our school, our university and our basketball program the right way,” Evans said.

“(Academics) is as important as how many games we win, and while that’s not the sexiest way to look at it, that’s the way it is. It’s the truth.”

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens.