FORT MYERS, Fla. — Keyshawn Evans will be playing two hours away from his home in Plantation, a suburb of Miami, on Saturday. Just don't remind him too much about it.
Illinois State's junior guard is trying to keep any homecoming thoughts out of his mind when the Redbirds face Florida Gulf Coast in the season opener at noon (Central) Saturday at Alico Arena.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on myself to perform over the top because there's people I know and I love that are there," said Evans, who expects about 17 family members and friends to be watching. "I just try to see it as a regular game."
Part of the reason ISU coach Dan Muller scheduled this game was so Evans, junior center David Ndiaye and redshirt sophomore guard Matt Hein could play back in their home state.
However, Ndiaye (stress fracture) and Hein (hyperextended knee) are injured and won't play. They were high school teammates in Windermere, a suburb of Orlando.
"I'm really disappointed for those two guys," said Muller. "But there's nothing you can do about it."
ISU is down to eight scholarship players against a team that has been to two straight NCAA tournaments and is the Atlantic Sun Conference favorite.
Evans is familiar with many of FGCU's players. He has competed against Eagles guard Zach Johnson since middle school and remembers some intense high school games when they squared off.
With only four returning players from last season, this will be the first road trip for several ISU players along with first-year assistant coaches Brian "Penny" Collins and Brendan Mullins.
That involves more than just a game, but things like packing, pregame meals, shootaround, hotel arrangements, etc. Evans said it will be "an adjustment" for several newcomers, but believes everything will work out fine.
"If we can get big wins like this against a team that probably will be in the (NCAA) tournament in March that will help a lot, and once we get everybody back this will be like a steppingstone," said Evans.
ISU struggled on the road early last season, but won nine of its last 10 true road games. Whether that carries over with mostly a new group remains to be seen.
"We're going down there to compete and be closer together as you always are trying to do (on the road) during the season against a really, really good team," said Muller.
FGCU returns three starters from last season's 26-8 squad, led by senior guard Brandon Goodwin.
Goodwin, the Atlantic Sun Preseason Player of the Year, set the Eagles' school record with 629 points last season. Johnson also was selected to the all-Atlantic Sun preseason team.
"You want to have some shooters and some bigs and some playmakers. I think we have a nice mix," said FGCU fifth-year coach Joe Dooley. "We're as big as we've been and a little longer than we've been on the wing and a little better shooting team than we've been."
The Eagles added plenty of size up front with two 6-10 transfers, Ricky Doyle (Michigan) and Michael Gilmore (Miami, Fla.), along with 6-10 junior college transfer Brady Ernst and 6-9, 240-pound freshman Brian Thomas.
Muller concedes the Eagles' size could be a problem for ISU, with 6-9 Phil Fayne and 6-8 freshman Taylor Bruninga the Redbirds' only available players taller than 6-6.
"We've talked about how important it is to stay out of foul trouble," said Muller. "But their two guards, I don't know if we'll play a better backcourt this year after watching film from last year. They're a problem in a lot of ways."
ISU didn't have the advantage of seeing tape from a FGCU exhibition game. The Eagles opted for two closed scrimmages against Florida and Central Florida whereas the Redbirds beat Lewis, 79-52, in an exhibition last Sunday that FGCU had an opportunity to see.
Former ISU player David Cason is in his first year with the Eagles as an assistant coach after spending the last two seasons at Texas.