On a roll: Young wheelchair basketball star sets his sights high

Collin Evans
Collin Evans, former Jr. Rolling Timberwolves player

William Bolton also contributed to this story.

Motivation can come in many shapes and sizes.

Some people “said it would be a lot harder to do stuff, just because of my injury,” said Evans, 18, of Mondovi, Wis. “It kind of drove me, because I wanted to prove them wrong. –Collin Evans

For Collin Evans, it’s the sight of the wheelchair he’s used since a car accident nearly crushed his spine when he was 7.

Paralyzed from the waist down after the accident, Evans overcame great odds to become one of the top wheelchair basketball prospects in the nation. And his remarkable comeback is still being written. Next year, he’ll continue his playing career in college, a springboard, he hopes, to qualifying for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

Some people “said it would be a lot harder to do stuff, just because of my injury,” said Evans, 18, of Mondovi, Wis. “It kind of drove me, because I wanted to prove them wrong.”

Evans recalls the accident, but not like it was yesterday. He remembers where his family members were sitting in their Ford pickup truck. He remembers their vehicle was hit head-on by oncoming traffic—but from then on, he remembers nothing until the hospital.

“The whole feeling of the house changed,” said Evans’ younger brother, Hunter. “[There were] big injuries to my mother, myself and Collin. And then, of course, the house changes itself. We had to make it accessible for a wheelchair. We had to get around.”

Evans playing wheelchair basketball against the Bucks
Collin Evans, a former Jr. Rolling Timberwolves player, persevered through a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down at age 7 and became one of the top wheel chair basketball recruits in the nation.

After the accident, Evans found few people expected him to work as hard as he did in rehabilitation. Therapy that was expected to last a year took only a month. But Evans, a former three-season athlete faced with the prospect of never walking again, needed an outlet.

About two years after the accident, he found one in the increasingly popular sport of wheelchair basketball, to which he was introduced by his aunt.

Evans’ confidence grew after he enrolled into the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. He eventually made his way onto the Jr. Rolling Timberwolves, the institute’s varsity wheelchair basketball team.

Wheelchair basketball players are classified into eight categories ranging from 1 to 4.5. Higher numbers signify players with more functional ability, lower numbers signify players with less. In the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, teams are allowed to have a total of 15 points per five players on the court at any one time.

A Class 1 player, Evans started his first varsity game at age 14. Twice a week, he would make the two-hour drive from his hometown of Mondovi to the Jr. Rolling Timberwolves’ home gym in Minneapolis for practice.

As he progressed, he became more of a leader. Cara Gulbronson, the wheelchair sports program coordinator for the institute, said she has noticed a huge change in Evans’ game since the first time he entered the gym.

“I think overall he’s just more confident as a player and as a student,” Gulbronson said. “Collin was on the all-academic team as well. Not only is he a great wheelchair basketball player, but he’s also a great leader on and off the court.”

After scoring 28 points to help the Jr. Rolling Timberwolves win the 2013-14 junior national championship game during his sophomore year, Evans went on to average 19.3 points per game—and score 42 points during a game at the Midwest Junior Regional Tournament in Whitewater, Wisconsin—his junior year. He shot 40.5 percent from the field and averaged 4.4 rebounds per game en route to winning the Junior Division MVP award. (Evans’ stats for the 2015-16 season were unavailable when this article went to press.)

By the end of his high school career, Evans was a three-time national champion. He also traveled to Japan in November to compete with the United States U-30 team for the Kitakyushu Champions Cup. Although the U.S. finished in fourth place, Evans still had a good time.

“We got killed by them, but it was still a fun time,” he said. “The experience was great.”

A sought-after college prospect, Evans signed to play at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which has won the last three national championships. He said he chose not to try out for the U.S. team for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and to instead focus on his first year of college at UW-Whitewater.

“I’ve gotta get stronger and faster,” he said, “and grow and keep up with people.”