By Tom Robinson
On the way to his budding professional basketball career, Evan Maxwell spent time at three colleges where he went through distinctly different experiences on the court.
It was time during a break between those stops, however, that he credits for helping reset his basketball career.
Maxwell left the Kansas Jayhawks and college altogether to return home to Clarks Summit. He never left basketball, however, using his time away from school to work at Backcourt Hoops in Scranton for his former AAU coach, John Bucci.
“I spent a semester with coach Bucci, training kids and really found again why I love the game,” Maxwell said in a recent telephone interview from Slovakia where he is going through the preseason with BK Spisska Nova Ves, preparing for the Oct. 5 opener of Slovakian Extraliga, that nation’s top tier of professional basketball.
That love had become almost an obsession for Maxwell, who found balance in life, his faith and basketball while resuming his college career at Indiana Wesleyan University where he won a National Intercollegiate Athletic Association Division II national title.
“I was too much basketball,” the Abington Heights graduate said.
The 6-foot-10 center first established himself as a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I player in two seasons at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Maxwell earned playing time as a freshman, then shot nearly 64 percent from the floor while averaging 10 points and almost five rebounds per game as a sophomore in the 2015-16 season.
The possibility of taking basketball to its highest levels led Maxwell to transfer to one of the nation’s elite programs. He spent the summer and the entire fall semester working with the Kansas basketball team, knowing he would have to sit out the 2016-17 season under NCAA transfer rules.
Before starting a second semester at Kansas, Maxwell decided it was time to come home and rethink his plans.
Maxwell now projects to open the season as the starting center for Nova Ves. As he gets ready, the time between leaving Kansas and becoming settled at Indiana Wesleyan sticks out.
It was then that Maxwell found out he wanted to keep pursuing basketball, but with proper perspective. And, it was then that he made a connection with the Marion, Ind. school that fit those priorities while still playing basketball at a high enough level to ultimately make Maxwell attractive to professional teams.
“That was probably just as big a blessing as anything in my basketball career,” Maxwell said. “I was building a solid foundation of who I want to be and how I want to play basketball.”
Maxwell graduated from Indiana Wesleyan in the spring. In his two seasons there, he won a national title as a junior and got to play with his younger brother Seth, another JB Hoops and Abington Heights alum, as a senior. Evan averaged more than 17 points per game and hit better than 45 percent from 3-point range while earning all-conference and all-American recognition.
With his college career over, Maxwell enlisted the help of an agent who sent video of Maxwell’s senior season at Indiana Wesleyan to professional teams.
“The agency told me they had a team in first division Slovakia that was interested in me,” Maxwell said. “I did my research from there and everything went through the agent. They sent me a contract, we looked it over and negotiated.”
By mid-summer Maxwell had a signed contract. By mid-August, he had arrived in Slovakia where he went through eight practices with his new team in the first five days in the country.
Maxwell is one of three Americans on the team. The current roster also includes one player from Poland and Maxwell said one Canadian has been part of preseason practices.
Although there is a bit of a language barrier, Maxwell said, “basketball bridges the gap in cultures.”
There is plenty of time to find out if the Slovakian Extraliga is the culmination of Maxwell’s basketball journey or the first of multiple steps professionally. He is doing his best not to think about that too much right now.
“I’m just trying to not to get too ahead of myself, not thinking about the future too much, just focus on one day at a time,” Maxwell said. “If I think of all that stuff, I won’t take care of business now and nothing will work out in the end.
“I’m trying to soak up the moment, pour into my teammates as much as possible, do my very best every day.”
Maxwell is trying to do what he can off the court to make his game as strong as possible.
“In order to do it as long as possible, I’ve been eating right for a long time, been stretching more, sleeping more, being more intent on taking care of my body,” said Maxwell, who will soon be joined in Slovakia by his wife and infant daughter. “That’s what makes the money now is my body. It’s different. I don’t have to worry about school and there’s no distractions as far as that goes.”
Maxwell said it is an adjustment he’s been trying to be conscious of in recent years.
“But, now it’s time to really implement that mindset,” he said.
As Nova Ves tries to improve on a 9-26 season a year ago, it has been turning to Maxwell in the preseason to fill a role similar to the one he had at Indiana Wesleyan.
“It looks like I’m playing a similar role as what I’m used to with a mixture of down low and being on the perimeter,” Maxwell said. “So far, at least, I fit in with what they want to do.”