“Whether we were playing in Madison Square Garden or a summer league in Worcester, he made playing more FUN. The ultimate compliment for a point guard was that he made everyone he was on the court with a better player. I was lucky to have him as a teammate and a friend all these years.”
— Jim Kissane, Boston College ‘68
The Boston College men’s basketball teams have had an impressive list of high-profile guards over the years. Think Michael Adams, John Bagley, Dana Barros, Troy Bell, Reggie Jackson, and the oft-forgotten Howard Eisley, whose 12-year NBA career included being the most able backup the great John Stockton ever had.
But if I were coaching, and BC was playing for its athletic life tonight, the easy choice as my starting point guard would be Billy Evans, Class of ‘69. And trust me, the aforementioned BC luminaries would all come away immensely pleased to be Billy’s backcourt mate.
Billy Evans died Jan. 12 at age 75. Leading the list of mourners was his coach, a noted Worcester resident named Bob Cousy.
“In every way Billy was a joy,” says The Cooz. “He wanted to win as much as the coach did. Billy and I bonded in that regard.”
It’s now 54 years since Evans’s BC career ended, but guess who remains BC’s all-time assists leader? Yup, you guessed it.
“Billy was the consummate point guard,” asserts Kissane. “He never looked for his shot first.”
“Along with [Israeli legend] Tal Brody,” adds teammate Steve Adelman, “he was the best guard I ever played with. If you were open, you were going to get the ball.”
All-time Cornell great Walter Esdaile, who teamed with Evans to win three consecutive Connecticut state championships at New Haven’s Hillhouse High School, recalls that “if you put your hand up you were going to get the ball. Billy wasn’t a great scorer, but he was the smartest guy on the floor.”
Are you starting to get the picture?
Billy Evans was a 5-foot-11-inch southpaw. He was, to be polite, an inconsistent shooter from the outside. He’d find a way to get his double figures, but that wasn’t his basketball raison d’être. “He just wasn’t a great shooter,” acknowledges The Cooz. “But the way we ran up and down the floor, it didn’t hurt us.”
Evans was part of a true golden era of BC basketball. After a 10-11 get-acquainted start in 1963-64, Coach Cousy produced some very good teams in the next five years. In Evans’s three varsity years, BC went 62-15, coming a game away from the Final Four in 1967 and about six minutes away from winning the 1969 NIT, when the NIT was still a very big deal.
The man upstairs put Evans on this earth to take charge of basketball teams and make them run efficiently. This was never more in evidence than on the night of Feb. 18, 1967, when BC clashed with the Jimmy Walker-led Providence Friars in a game where everyone knew the winner as going to the NCAA Tournament and the loser was going to the NIT. It was so big that Ch. 4 televised it and Sports Illustrated sent Mervin Hyman to cover it.
BC squandered a 16-point lead but held on to win it, 83-82, with Kissane astutely throwing the ball in the air to run out the clock before Walker could get his hands on the ball one more time.
How does Adelman remember that night? “I had 31,” he recalls. “But [Providence coach] Joe Mullaney said, ‘Evans killed us.’ ” Adelman was right on both counts. He did have 31, but Evans had 16 assists that night. and that’s exactly what Mullaney said. Meanwhile, Hyman was alerting his SI readers to “Quick, little Billy Evans, ball handling and passing like a pro quarterback” (as well as “Steve Adelman, firing in long and medium jumpers”).
At the conclusion of that season, Evans was named the ECAC Sophomore of the Year, a big honor in that pre-Big East era.
And so it went for two more seasons, with a second NCAA appearance in 1968 and that run to the ‘69 NIT final, where a 24-4 season ended with a loss to Temple.
After a year with the ABA New Jersey Nets, Evans’s basketball career was over, but his true life was just beginning. He graduated from BC Law School in 1973 and embarked on a highly successful business career.
He was president, CEO, and director of XTRA Corporation by age 35. He continued working in a world of such things as railroad cars, piggyback trailers, containers, chassis, and railroad rolling stock. He formed MRX Corporation in 1992 and remained as president and chief shareholder until his death.
“He had an innate sense of seeing the big picture,” says longtime business associate Susan Hagen. “People loved him. He was the best listener and he could cut through the B.S.”
Along the way Evans fell in love with thoroughbred racing and was an investor with Sol Kumin in Madaket Stables, owner of 2020 Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Authentic.
And he never lost touch with his BC gang.
“When I think of Billy, I don’t think of basketball,” says Jim O’Brien, a teammate who later coached the Eagles to within a game of the Final Four in 1994. “I met him when I was 17 and we’ve been friends ever since.”
“He was a very close friend,” confirms Terry Driscoll, an Evans classmate and MVP of that 1969 NIT. “He was one of those people in life that you really can’t replace with anyone else.”
These septuagenarians are products of a collegiate era in which everyone spent four years in school, went to class, graduated, and actually had friends who weren’t jocks. They find it impossible to relate to this new world of transfer portals and NIL.
“The memories are tremendous,” Kissane says. “All the successes, and the failures . . . we bond.”
In the case of these BC guys, they have a particular bond. It’s because of that 94-year-old guy in Worcester.
“Cousy is the one who brought us all together,” says O’Brien. “Cooz is the linchpin. It’s because of him I met one of my all-time best friends, Billy Evans.”
Losing a Billy Evans hits The Cooz hard. He is the father of two daughters. These players are his surrogate sons.
“You’re not supposed to be burying your children,” he laments. “These are my children.”
Evans is in the BC Hall of Fame, but it’s about time his No. 14 gets hoisted in Conte Forum. There wasn’t anybody like him.
Bob Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.