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Kansas transfer Evan Maxwell finds balance, success at Indiana Wesleyan

Indiana Wesleyan junior center Evan Maxwell scores on a drive against Bethel in a game earlier this season in Marion. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Wesleyan Athletics)
Indiana Wesleyan junior center Evan Maxwell defends on a drive by Saint Francis forward Chandler White during a recent game in Marion. (Photo by Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Indiana Wesleyan junior center Evan Maxwell scores on a post move over Saint Francis center Bryce Lienhoop in a game earlier this season in Marion. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Wesleyan Athletics)

MARION – Becoming an effective player at the NCAA Division I level didn’t lead Evan Maxwell to happiness.

Being part of one of the nation’s more renowned college basketball programs couldn’t bring Maxwell joy either.

As it is for a lot of young people, in all walks of life, finding purpose and contentment is a process, and for Maxwell, he discovered that in a locale – Indiana Wesleyan University – which he never dreamt of.

“I have found my place,” Maxwell told News-Sentinel.com recently, “and I’ve found how I fit into this culture and I am embracing this culture.”

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Maxwell’s journey has taken him from Lynchburg, Virginia to Lawrence, Kansas, back home to Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, and finally to a place he had never heard of in Indiana Wesleyan in Marion.

Maxwell is in the process of leading the Wildcats in pursuit of their third NAIA Division II National Championship in the past five seasons and he couldn’t be more enthusiastic about his current situation, on or off of the basketball court.

Indiana Wesleyan (29-7) beat Morningside (Iowa) 86-68 Saturday to advance to the Final Four round of the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D. Maxwell scored a team-high 22 points in Saturday’s victory.

The Wildcats will face IU East at (34-2) at 7 p.m. (EST) on Monday.

THE PRICE OF SUCCESS

“I had never heard of Indiana Wesleyan,” Maxwell said, “but from the very start of the conversations that I was having with the coaches, I knew that these were the type of men that I would want to be around. It’s guys that cared about the same things that I did.”

Maxwell began his college basketball career at Liberty University and over the course of a couple of seasons, really began to blossom.

After a middling freshman season with the Flames, he grew into an effective player as a sophomore. After averaging 10 points and nearly five rebounds per game, the 6-foot-10 post player began to wonder just what his athletic potential was.

“I experienced some basketball success,” Maxwell said of that sophomore season. “As I was (at Liberty), I got really into basketball. I experienced some success and I got a little obsessive over it and wanted to play professionally. I didn’t want to go anywhere but the NBA.

“I wanted to take my talents and see how far I could go with it.”

Joining the Kansas basketball program is about as “far” as a college player can “take his talents” and Maxwell learned that quickly.

Competing among the best players in the country was indeed challenging from an athletic standpoint, but it didn’t make Maxwell content as a person. To find his purpose – in life and on the court – Maxwell had to go home.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Maxwell left the Jayhawks after spending just one semester with the program, and some would say that it was a mistake to leave Liberty in the first place. But Maxwell will tell you that every step has a purpose and his circuitous path has had that.

“I had lost my love of basketball,” Maxwell said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to play anymore.”

But being home for an extended period of time, really, for the first time in several years, was a blessing.

He spent time working for his AAU coach and coaching young players and he enjoyed the opportunity to watch his younger brother, Seth, play during his senior season in high school.

The time home also allowed him to rekindle his passion for the game, but – and this is critical in his story – it wasn’t to an obsessive degree.

“I had lost who I truly was,” Maxwell said. “I was never obsessed with basketball as a kid. I liked watching highlights and I liked playing, but I didn’t use every single minute, spending all my mind, and all my energy, in becoming the greatest that I could be. That wasn’t me.

“I got wrapped up in worldly success and forgot who I was. Going home and being with family, it was a good way to find me again.”

THE RIGHT BALANCE

Wildcat assistant coach David Osborn knew someone who knew someone who knew of Maxwell and when the young athlete spoke with the Indiana Wesleyan coaches and players, he found a place with the right balance between pursuing excellence in ALL walks of life, not just in the paint.

“The ‘I am 3rd’ philosophy of God first, others second, and I am third permeates everything in our locker room,” veteran Indiana Wesleyan assistant Jeff Clark explained of the program’s foundational mantra. “Whether it is basketball, academics, in the locker room, in the weight room, that is first and foremost and when players come here they know that is the case.”

Maxwell discovered bliss in the philosophy.

He wants to be great at basketball – and his 40 combined points in two Indiana Wesleyan wins thus far in the national tournament are indicative of that – but he wants life balance, as well.

“Nothing could take away from the culture that they have built here,” Maxwell said. “That is by far the highlight. We could be playing high school-level basketball and I would still love being here.

“I’ve been pushed off the court more than I ever have in my relationship with God and just being around other men, my teammates, my coaches, just guys striving to be the greatest they can be, but doing it to honor God instead of themselves.”

A HIGH LEVEL

Admittedly, Maxwell isn’t a college basketball fanatic. He didn’t know a lot about Kansas before going there, let alone NAIA basketball. But what he found with the Wildcats was a group of athletes that are just as committed to athletic success as at any other level, but again, with the right balance in life.

“When I came here, I knew to expect a winning team with a lot of history,” Maxwell said, “I expected a positive culture. But after playing a season here, it’s competitive. There are no nights off.

“I kind of thought I would come in and dominate and it would be easy. It has not been that, by any means.”

Maxwell has been tremendous, as he averaged over 17 points and six boards per game, but the Crossroads League Player of the Year went to another Indiana Wesleyan player (freshman guard Kyle Mangas), not Maxwell.

“There is nothing given here,” Maxwell said. “I had to work and that has been really good for me. Just coming in and working and realizing that just because the whole nation isn’t tuning into this, doesn’t take away from the fact that these guys are skilled athletes.”

SPREADING THE WORD

Not only has Maxwell enjoyed the environment at Indiana Wesleyan, but his younger brother is intrigued by it, as well.

Seth Maxwell recently helped The Hill School win its first Pennsylvania Independent School Athletic Association (PAISAA) State Tournament in four years and the thought of playing alongside his brother – in this type of culture – appeals to both brothers.

“He is pretty similar to me,” Evan said, “and I’ve told him that (NCAA) Division I isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. He has talked to the coaches here and likes the culture here.

“There has been no other school that has caught his eye and he has fallen in love with.”

Seth Maxwell is thinner than Evan was coming out of high school, but is a “legit 7-feet,” according to Evan, and he has multiple NCAA Division I programs in pursuit of him.

“He is a lot longer than me and a lot taller than me,” Evan said of his younger sibling.

That is impressive, but as older brother knows, it’s not always the size of things that are important in life; the key to true peace is in finding the right fit.

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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