By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Gladys Evans told her son that it was just too dangerous for him. "My mom didn't give a hoot what I thought about her when I was 16, 17, 18," Evans recalls. "She'd say, Come see me when you're 25 and then tell me what you think about me.'"
Needless to say, he didn't go to Mississippi – then.
Coach Tasker named Evans as co-captain in his senior year, an honor that brought with it a responsibility that transcended race.
"The coach had the foresight of making me one of the guys in charge of bed check," Evans says, relishing the memory. "Here I was, a 17-year-old black kid in a segregated community, and I'd go to the other side of town, knock on doors, and ask if my white teammates were home. My next comment was, I have to see for myself.'"
Still, the specter of racism always lurked at Hobbs High. "Some kids would make a point of pointing at me in the hall. That's Rob Evans. His mother cleans our house.' That was denigrating, however they meant it or didn't mean it."
Hobbs lost the 1964 state championship game in a heartbreaker, but the Eagles' starting five later got invited to play in the annual all-star game in Albuquerque.
"Four of us – the white guys – rode up to the game without Rob, just left him behind," says Dean Williams, becoming tearful. "It was so ignorant of us. This has been eating at me for 40 years. I still don't understand why I didn't say something. Rob was this great guy, who happened to be a black kid. Big f-ing deal."
Williams – who now runs a tire store near Hobbs – never discussed the ancient episode with Evans until last month, when he attended ASU's home games against the Bay Area schools.
Evans says he accepted Williams' apology, and that was that. But he adds, as if he's talking about something that happened yesterday, "I had to hustle a ride to Albuquerque at the last minute, and I got there late. It hurt. But I'm happy for Dean that he got this off his chest."
After high school, Rob Evans enrolled at Lubbock Christian University, where he shined on the basketball court and in the classroom.
One of Evans' teammates was Gerald Turner, a white kid from New Boston, Texas, who had been openly contentious at first to have to play with blacks. But Evans took pains to get to know his fellow freshman.
"I wanted to prove to Gerald that I was a good person and good teammate," Evans says. "I sensed that he was the same type of person as me, but that he just hadn't communicated with many black people – and vice versa."
Almost three decades later, Dr. Gerald Turner – by then the chancellor at the University of Mississippi – would be a driving force behind Evans' hiring as head basketball coach there.
Evans returned to Hobbs during his freshman year for a wedding, and sat near a gregarious young lady named Carolyn Marshall. She was three years younger than him, and was living in town with her maternal grandmother and two younger sisters.
The two struck up a conversation, then a friendship.
"I grew up in the same kind of background as Rob," Carolyn Evans says, "with no money by any stretch of the imagination, but with the knowledge that you just have to be productive and go from there. But it was still a stretch for a black kid from Hobbs to ever think he or she could go to college, even if they had that aspiration. To have the money to do so was an issue." (She later would earn her college degree from Wayland Baptist University, near Lubbock.)
As for her feelings for Evans, she recalls, "In my mental list of what I'd be looking for in a spouse, Rob was the only guy. First, it had to be a love thing. I was independent and willing to persevere, and that prepared me in becoming part of Rob's quest to become a head coach. In the context of the times, that wasn't going to be easy."
Evans transferred to New Mexico State after his sophomore year, and became team captain soon after workouts for the 1966-67 season started in Las Cruces. In his two years there (both seasons ended with NCAA tournament bids), the 6-1 Evans won respect for his leadership qualities, knowledge of the game and relentless defensive play.
He also continued to battle in the classroom, and earned his bachelor's degree in education in May 1968. His parents and Carolyn Marshall were among those attending the graduation ceremony.
For a long time, Evans' ambition had been to get his degree, then return to Hobbs and teach high school English. But now he was hungering for a career as a basketball coach, specifically as a major-college head coach.
But other possibilities loomed. The Dallas Chaparrals of the American Basketball Association drafted Evans after his senior year. And football's Oakland Raiders offered him a free-agent contract as a wide receiver, surprising because he hadn't played organized football since high school.