Evans gives Eagles lift

When Danny Evans took over the Ridgway Christian boys basketball team before the season began, he didn’t imagine the Eagles would go far into the postseason.

“At the beginning, we kind of struggled, but we got better as the season went on,” Evans said.

The former Arkansas-Pine Bluff women’s basketball coach preaches fundamentals, and he points to them when explaining how the Eagles progressed through the season. The little things — and big things — they did helped them reach the semifinals of the Arkansas Association of Christian Schools state tournament in Magnolia.

Evans’ leadership has earned him The Commercial’s All-Southeast Arkansas Boys Coach of the Year award, a nice cap to his return to the sidelines.

He was the Lady Lions’ coach from 2005 to 2009, when he was let go, and didn’t land a full-time job until this past fall. He served as a substitute teacher the past two years.

“I love basketball,” Evans said. “I love the game and teaching the game. It got me back in teaching school, teaching math.”

Ridgway junior Blake Pennington was aware of the caliber of coach he and his teammates were getting.

“We’re a small school and he just brought in basketball knowledge and fundamentals,” Pennington said. “It was a big step up from what we were used to. We were used to somebody being nice and help us along the way. With a coach of his caliber, we wanted to prove to him that we weren’t just a small school and that we could play.”

And win. The Eagles finished the season 14-7, losing by just four points to Van Buren Christian in the state semis. Evans also coached the Ridgway junior high boys team to a state runner-up finish.

So, he settled into the high school environment quite nicely.

“It was an experience just to teach basketball, teach the fundamentals they miss out on as high school players,” Evans said. “It was rewarding in that it made me teach basketball again. To see them develop was rewarding, too. Everyone felt they got better as the season came along.”

With classmates Larry Tate and Demetrius McCullough bringing back more than 30 points per game combined, Pennington likes the Eagles’ chances at a state title.

“This right here was our learning experience with coach Evans,” Pennington said. “He’s taken so much time out of his day to help out each individual, not just the team.”