Brandon Goldman, a walk-on player who has captured the fancy of Sun Devils fans with his upbeat attitude, puts it like this: "Young males need a male figure to be there for them, an older man, a teacher, a coach. Coach is a standup guy, and he always pushes the work ethic, getting tougher, working harder."
Adds senior co-captain Kyle Dodd, a loquacious 22-year-old from Southern California: "Coach knows a lot about life, about living. We all know he didn't have it easy coming up or breaking into head coaching. He's taught me that when you screw up, look in the mirror and see what you see. It's usually not anyone else's fault."
Dodd is one of the six young men who enrolled at ASU in the fall of 1999, as Coach Evans' first freshman recruiting class. Five of the six are said to be on track to graduate in the next year or so (the sixth player left the program).
To put that into perspective, ASU had just one four-year men's basketball player graduate in the decade before Evans took the job in 1998.
Truth be told, the coach is as human as the next guy. He bitches at referees to an extreme, tends to be oversensitive about perceived slights, and (this one has worked both as curse and blessing) he can be endlessly stubborn. But Evans is comfortable working inside the box he's built for himself over a lifetime.
And that box is wrapped in a blue-collar ribbon.
"People saw early on that I had a game plan," he says. "They knew I wasn't going to be one of those guys hanging out on a corner that I had an ambition, and I was willing to work for what I wanted."
Located about five hours from Albuquerque in southeastern New Mexico, the city of Hobbs is named after a family that was among the first to settle there in 1907.
Oil booms in the late 1920s lured thousands to the area, and the hamlet became a small city, with the requisite taverns, dance halls and, according to a local history, "roller rinks, 19 pool halls, 34 drug stores, 53 barbershops and 50 oil field supply houses."
Hobbs' growth stabilized after the oil craze waned. When Rob Evans was born September 7, 1946, it had a population of about 13,000, including his parents, Oscar and Gladys Evans.
Hobbs then was as segregated racially as any city in the Deep South. The blacks who accounted for about 10 percent of the population lived in one part of town, and the whites in the other. Those of Latino descent lived in the black neighborhoods.
Gladys Evans gave birth to all seven of her kids by her 25th birthday, including Rob, the middle child of five brothers and two sisters.
Oscar Evans was a janitor during the days, and often did odd jobs at nights. He preached at area churches on Sundays, and had a great love of books. A courteous, unpretentious man, Mr. Evans carried himself in a manner that earned him adoration and respect.
Gladys Evans (who now lives in Desoto, Texas, with her youngest daughter) cleaned the homes of white folks in Hobbs to help make ends meet, no small task in a family of nine.
Hobbs was a separate and unequal world for blacks during Rob Evans' youth. One evening, when Evans was 6 or 7, his dad took him and his brothers to work at a second job, cleaning an attorney's office.
"The guy decided to have fun at my dad's expense," Coach Evans recalls. "Oscar, get over here.' Dad continued to work. You don't get over here, I'm going to kick your rear end.' Dad said, Boys, let's go.' I said, Dad, we need the money.' He said to us, Dignity and integrity are non-negotiable.' I get chills right now when I think of it."
Neither of the Evanses had much formal education -- eighth grade was it for each. But they put the schooling of their children atop their list of priorities. (All seven children would earn college degrees, a remarkable achievement.)
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the continued segregation of public schools in the landmark case of Brown v. the [Topeka, Kansas] Board of Education.
The integration of Hobbs High School meant black kids could play for the Eagles' basketball team, coached by Ralph Tasker. Tasker then was just starting a half-century stint that would earn him acclaim as one of the nation's best.
"I remember my parents telling me to listen to the radio one night," Evans says. "It was 1955, and I was 9. Some white parents had been giving Coach Tasker grief about integration. He came on and said, I'm going to play my best players. You want another coach, get one.' To kids in the black community, he was saying, if you're good enough, you play."