HO CHI MINH – After concluding his ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) stint with Vietnamese side Saigon Heat, Evan Gilyard is ready to take on the next chapter of his budding professional career.
The 5-foot-10 Chicago native has signed a contract with Nymburk, the winningest team in the Czech Republic national league with 19 titles.
Never seeing himself getting out of Illinois to play basketball, Gilyard had the opportunity to see action for the Kansas City Roos, New Mexico State Aggies, and University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Miners throughout a five-year collegiate career, before playing briefly for the Chicago Bulls’ G-League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls.
Now, Gilyard has the opportunity to continue writing the pages to his basketball story in Europe.
“I’m just taking it day by day, keep grinding, keep working, take my blessings as they come, and I’m not too much worried about that far in the future, I will just take it day by day and live life,” Gilyard told ABS-CBN Sports.
Gilyard’s foray into the Southeast Asian basketball scene started from his agent’s connection with Heat head coach Matt Van Pelt, who brought the leftie point guard to play for the 2023 ABL Invitational season.
“I was with the Windy City Bulls, and we had a situation going on there, and my agent talked with Matt, we built a strong relationship and he got me here,” Gilyard said.
He would put up scintillating numbers for the Heat, averaging 21 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists throughout his stint. In Game 2 of the best-of-three finals against Hong Kong Eastern, he also erupted for 41 points and tied the ABL record for triples made with 10.
Hong Kong would eventually cop the title with a 2-1 series win, but Gilyard made his mark in the Asian basketball ecosystem enough to merit him another contract.
The son of Aisha Gilyard Thompson and Evan Sr., Gilyard always played with extra motivation. Not being the tallest athlete in the hardcourt, Gilyard had to make up for it with his tenacity and toughness.
“Growing up in Chicago is pretty hard; going to school, in the city and everything, it’s a lot of distraction,” he shared in an interview with New Mexico State.
“Streets, drugs, and everything, so for me to have the support system to keep me focused and keep me on the right track with basketball. I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder just to prove everybody wrong, to prove that it’s more to me than being 5-6, 5-7 at the time.”
Gilyard, who turns 25 in August, played high school hoops in the established Simeon Career Academy, which produced NBA names like Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn, and his teammates Zach Norvell and Talen Horton-Tucker.
Coincidentally, Gilyard’s underdog background may have also been influenced partly by his Filipino background. The playmaker revealed he has Filipino heritage from his mother side, similar to former NBA dunk champion Nate Robinson’s extent.
While admittedly stating he has not deeply acquainted himself with the Filipino basketball culture yet, Gilyard acknowledge his roots.
“Definitely embracing (being part Filipino) and taking it day by day, whatever comes with it, whatever comes out of it, then I’ll just take it,” Gilyard said.
“I was raised by my aunties, my grandmother, I just took basketball so seriously and it kept me off the streets. My uncle, my father helped me stay in the gym. They worked me out every day. It was a tough situation, it was built for the strongest to survive.”
Many factors contributed to who Gilyard is as a professional player at present. What is important, Gilyard says, is that whatever the future holds for him, he will keep embracing being the underdog who is ready to take on the world.
“Everything crosses my mind. At the end of the day, I just want to play the game that I love and use it to take care of my family, play everything the right way,” he said.