Somewhere in the course of an evening Florida State guard RayQuan Evans might prefer to forget but will always remember, a fan of the team that would dominate the Seminoles that night got the attention of one of FSU’s staff members. The fan handed the staffer an envelope and asked that it be passed along to Evans.
He carries it with him everywhere he goes now. “I can find it really quick,” Evans tells Sporting News. “I’ve got to find my backpack first.” Upon retrieving it, he describes the exterior of the card, which is black with a Purdue logo affixed to the front. And then he reads what is contained inside:
“Dear RayQuan, first and foremost we want to send our condolences to you and your family for the loss of your brother. The entire college basketball community is behind you, including your new fans in West Lafayette. Best of luck the rest of the season.’ And it was signed by ‘The Paint Crew.’”
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Evans was not in Mackey Arena that evening. It was the second of two games he missed to return to Montana to be with his family and attend the funeral of his brother, Tye Lafranier, who passed away 10 days before, at age 27, from a rare form of leukemia. Lafranier had been a multi-sport athlete in high school and enjoyed watching RayQuan’s games with the Seminoles.
There is no gameplan for navigating an athletic season in the midst of immeasurable loss, so Evans has improvised through the past six weeks. He learned of Tye’s death while he was across the state playing with the Seminoles in the Jacksonville Classic. He scored 8 points and passed for 6 assists in an 81-58 championship game victory over Missouri.
“During that tournament, my mother called me and told me my brother was going through a little episode of uncertainty, so she was spending time with him.,” Evans said. “I just went into that game like any normal game. I got to talk to my other brother and my family who was with my brother in the hospital. And then after the game, I met up with my dad, and he kind of broke the news to me. Of course I was heartbroken, so upset that I didn’t get to talk to him or see him one last time.
“But I just felt, since we were playing a tournament and had another game the next day, that tournament was something I needed to finish. But I also wanted to represent and honor my brother in that moment the best that I could.”
Evans is a 6-4 senior guard from Billings, Mont. He has traveled a long way both geographically and personally to be a regular for a third straight season in one of college basketball’s most consistent programs.
He began his career at North Idaho College, which he acknowledges was a direction forced by inadequate academic performance while in high school. “I had a mind of my own,” Evans said. “I didn’t really focus on school as much. I kind of thought the basketball was going to take care of itself and I could go play anywhere.”
Evans said he did not listen to those who advised him about the importance of his school work, but junior college was all the convincing he needed. He earned an associates degree in Graphic Design while at North Idaho, was spotted by FSU in part because former Seminole Braian Angola-Rodas had played there, and made the decision to travel 2,000 miles from home to complete his college career. Evans now has a degree in Social Science and is working on a second bachelor’s in International Affairs.
With FSU’s ACC championship team in 2019-20, he averaged 11 minutes and 3.1 points but did not get the experience of pursuing a Final Four bid because the NCAA Tournament was canceled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last season, when the Seminoles reached the Sweet 16 but missed a chance to win the ACC regular season and fell in the ACC Tournament final, he started and averaged 5.1 points and 1.4 assists.
With FSU basketball now on a COVID pause, he has not had the distraction of playing or practicing basketball since a Dec. 18 game against UCF was canceled – “Of course I want to play games,” he said – but there has been a benefit to the absence of activity.
“It’s kind of good for me, in all honesty. After my brother’s funeral, I had to come back the next day and kind of jump right back into playing games. So I didn’t really get time to comprehend and sit with my emotions and really accept what had happened,” Evans said. “In a way, this is what I needed to kind of come to peace with myself and also the fact my brother’s gone up to Heaven and the afterlife.
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“Obviously, when I get to play games it helps, because I get to honor him. Every game I play is for him. But I feel like the break is a little blessing in disguise for me.”
In his first game back after attending his brother’s funeral, a narrow ACC defeat against Syracuse in which he came off the bench to score 9 points and grab 6 rebounds, Evans took a marking pen and wrote a short message on the white strip of his maroon Nike sneakers: “For you Tye …” with a small heart emoji drawn at the end of that ellipsis.
To say it’s been a difficult start to the season because the Seminoles have lost four of their six games against high-major opponents is rather missing the point. There have been losses that matter much more, but also triumphs that go beyond the final score.
“The Purdue student section – I’ll forever be grateful for them,” Evans told SN. “That was an amazing feeling. I’m very thankful they took the time to do that and acknowledge that, going into a big game. They didn’t have to. It’s something I think about every day. It means a lot to me. It just shows that the basketball community — as much as we compete and stuff – everyone’s together. For them to go out of their way to do that, that was big for me. It shows that it’s bigger than basketball.”