Few people would consider Transylvania a primetime basketball destination, given that the region of central Romania is known more for its castles — including Bran Castle, a medieval fortress often associated with the legend of Count Dracula — than its sports arenas.
But for Danny Evans there was no better place to be this summer to work on his game and represent his country.
Evans, a rising sophomore at the University of Maine, just returned home to his native England after helping Great Britain win the bronze medal at the FIBA European U20 Division B championships held in Oreada, Romania.
Not only did Great Britain finish third, but its 81-65 victory over Croatia in the consolation final elevated the program back to Division A for next year’s European championships after being relegated to Division B in 2015 and finishing seventh in last year’s tournament.
“The European championships were very successful for us,” said Evans, a 6-foot-4 guard from Leeds, England, via email this week. “From day one of training camp we set ourselves the goal of gaining promotion back to Division A. We accomplished that goal by finishing in the top three of the tournament so we were all extremely happy.”
Evans, who averaged 4.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in 32 games, including 22 starts, at UMaine last winter averaged 5.6 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals in seven games for Great Britain’s U20 squad, a balanced contingent with eight players who averaged between five and 14 points during the weeklong tournament.
“Personally I feel like I had a good tournament,” he said. “I was able to stay ready and contribute for my team when my number was called.”
Great Britain rebounded from a loss to the Netherlands in its first game of group play to advance to the quarterfinals with a 3-1 record.
That effort included Evans’ 25-point outburst during his team’s 111-68 victory over Azerbaijan, Great Britain’s third straight victory after its opening loss.
“Obviously the Azerbaijan game was a highlight for me from a personal standpoint,” he said. “It was a big win for us to close out the group stages and it showed that we were really starting to peak at the right time in the competition.”
Evans shot 9 of 16 from the field overall, including 7 of 13 from the 3-point arc, in 19 minutes.
“For me it was just one of those games that come along every once in awhile when you just feel like you can’t miss,” said Evans, who also played for Great Britain in the 2015 European U18 championships.
“It gave us a lot of momentum going into closing stage of the championships.”
Great Britain then edged Poland 71-69 in the quarterfinals before falling to Croatia 79-69 in the semifinals.
That left Evans and his teammates needing to defeat Russia for the second time in the tournament — Great Britain won a 64-57 decision in its second game of group play — not only to medal in the event but to be promoted to Division A for 2018.
Evans contributed four points and two steals in 12 minutes as the Brits moved out to a 41-29 halftime lead and withstood a Russian comeback in the third quarter to pull away to a most satisfying victory.
“For me personally there is no greater honor than representing my country playing the sport I love so much. It means a lot,” said Evans, one of two players from America East schools on the Great Britain roster along with forward Akwasi Yeboah of Stony Brook, who averaged a team-high 14.3 points along with 4.7 rebounds.
“Standing on the podium with my team having received our bronze medal was the proudest moment of my career to date.”
Evans is looking forward to his return to UMaine and his second season with the Black Bears’ basketball team, which will have a decidedly different look from last year’s 7-25 club due to an influx of new players primarily from the junior college ranks.
He believes his summertime sojourn to Transylvania will only help him as he seeks to become a more significant contributor to coach Bob Walsh’s program next winter.
“This competition was always going to put me into a good position coming into my sophomore season at UMaine but I feel given the success we had this summer it will only benefit me more as I hope to bring the winning mentality back with me to UMaine,” he said.
“I feel like the experiences I’ve had in competing against some of the top players in Europe and also seeing the different styles of play and taking and adding some of those to my own game has put me in a very good position. I’m excited about what my sophomore season has in store.”