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Above the Rim
Christian Evans is taking his game – and Bigfork – to new heights this season
Bigfork senior Christian Evans is a high-flying star on the talented Vikings basketball team. - Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
The college scouts and coaches at a few high-profile basketball tournaments on the East Coast last summer were not there to see a prospect out of Bigfork, Montana.

But after a couple games, it was hard for anyone to take their eyes off Christian Evans.

The 6-foot-7 forward from the northern shores of Flathead Lake showcased his athleticism and ability among his talented prep peers from across the nation, averaging roughly 27 points and 13 rebounds in multiple prominent events leading up to his senior year at Bigfork High School.

As he puts it mildly, “I got some colleges’ attention.”

“That was pretty cool coming from Montana where you don’t get that much attention,” he says. “I was pretty stoked about that.”

Evans’ visibility keeps increasing as the season rolls along and undefeated Bigfork (10-0) surges past all level of opponents. Last weekend Evans sank the game-winning 3-pointer with four seconds remaining to lift Bigfork over Class B rival Florence in overtime, 48-46. Evans scored two decisive free throws at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime.

Two weeks ago against Columbia Falls, a perennial Class A contender that rarely loses to any team in any division, Evans scored 28 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and captained the visiting Vikings past the Wildcats, 53-42.

“He put up a monster game against us. We didn’t have an answer,” said longtime Columbia Falls head coach Cary Finberg, crediting Evans’ size, athleticism and calm demeanor.

“He puts up numbers every night. As a fan, those are the types of players I love to watch, and as a coach those are the types of players you want on your team.”

The Columbia Falls game was one of the latest, and best, examples of Bigfork’s renewed stature this season. It was also another illustration of why Evans is considered one of the best all-around players, for any classification, in Montana.

“I look at his stats and I don’t know where he can get much better,” said Josh Downey, a 1999 Bigfork graduate and the team’s new head coach.

Evans is averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds this season, and the Vikings are off to another dominant start this winter.

Evans is the top returning player from last season’s squad and has a strong supporting cast around him that includes Josh Sandry, Cameron Nissen, Jon Landon and Isaac Martel.

Bigfork senior Christian Evans (33) goes up to block a shot during last week’s practice. - Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Only three seniors dot the roster, but there’s plenty of experience rising through the ranks for a program that has re-established itself in recent years as a force on the court.

Last year’s team won the conference and district titles and rolled into the Class B state tournament with a 19-4 record and state title aspirations. Malta eventually bumped Bigfork 47-35 in the semifinal round, the second straight season the Vikings fell in the semifinals. Malta went on to defeat Wolf Point for its second consecutive championship, and the victory extended the dominating streak of teams from the eastern half of the state. Of the current alignment, no team from the West has won a Class B boys basketball state championship since 1987, when Plains edged Wolf Point, 85-81.

It’s still early in the new season, but beware of Bigfork.

“This is the best high school team I’ve ever coached,” says Downey, who led top-ranked basketball teams in the highest classification levels in Washington and Idaho before taking over his alma mater. “That doesn’t mean I want Jeff Hays from Hellgate calling me tomorrow and scheduling a game, but I do (believe that). I’ve told these kids that.”

Downey took over the basketball program, and activities director position at the high school, in the offseason after Kurt Paulson accepted an assistant coaching position at the University of Montana. Downey played on the 1998 Bigfork team that advanced to the Class A state tournament, the first time a Vikings squad qualified for the postseason in 14 years. The group made it back a year later, Downey’s senior season, and after that he went on to play at Concordia University. He had multiple coaching stints, including as a graduate assistant under Mark Few at Gonzaga during the team’s high-profile 2005-06 season with Adam Morrison.

When the opportunity arose to return home, Downey uprooted his family and moved back to Bigfork.

Now settled in, Downey has a lot of confidence in this Vikings team, and Evans is a large reason why.

Against Eureka, the agile senior scored 30 points in basically three quarters of action. He racked up 23 points in less than three quarters against Troy. Against Class A Whitefish, Evans scored a game-high 17 points and guided the Vikes to a 50-38 win. Another Class A foe, Corvallis, fell victim in the season opener, 60-53, as Evans scored 21 points.

Bigfork senior Christian Evans is a high-flying star on the talented Vikings basketball team. - Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

But the Columbia Falls game reinforced all the confidence Downey has been injecting into the program.

“We hadn’t played anyone where we went into it thinking maybe the other team was better than we were,” Downey says. “I was anxious to see what their response would be,”

The response was unequivocal. Behind Evans’ lead, Bigfork jumped ahead right away and never backed down against a tall, physical Columbia Falls team that rarely loses in front of its raucous home crowd.

“We just know we can beat anybody, it doesn’t’ matter what class they’re in,” Evans says.

He grew up in Bigfork with a basketball in his hand. The neighbors grew accustomed to seeing him outside playing on his family’s hoop. By freshman year, he was throwing down slam-dunks. His skills developed quickly with his height, and by sophomore year he was a solid presence within Bigfork’s rising basketball program. By junior year he was all-state and leading the Vikings to one of its best seasons in school history.

Basketball remains the only sport in which the high school has not won a championship. The team has only played in one title game, losing a nail-biter in 1983 to Conrad, 75-74. The runner-up trophy sits tucked atop the trophy case at the school, near the basketball court where the team practices every day.

After falling short of playing for a championship the past two seasons, Evans and his teammates are eager to break through.

“I think we could do some damage at state this year,” Evans says. “That’s our goal at the end of the season: we really want to get a shot at it, and I think we can do it.”

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