Devils' Advocate

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Evans played baseball, basketball and football with a drive and skill that would carry him far. He also competed hard in the classroom with the white kids at newly integrated Houston Junior High.

"There was a little bit of difference at first," he says, "not from the standpoint of innate intelligence, but from the standpoint of previous educational opportunities. I just had to catch up."

Evans formed lasting friendships at the mostly white junior high.

"I didn't know any black people until I knew Rob," says Dean Williams, a high school basketball teammate of Evans. "His family didn't have much money, and neither did ours. I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do with my life. But you could tell even then that Rob knew something was out there for him."

Evans developed a social consciousness during the tumultuous early 1960s. In the summer before his senior year, Evans asked his parents if he could go to Mississippi to be part of the growing civil rights movement. It was June 1963, and white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith had just assassinated civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Jackson.

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.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin