One look at Cal Poly’s Chris Eversley’s face and you think he took a beating after a few rounds in the ring.
A long scar stretches over his left eye comes from when he was a 7-year old growing up in Chicago. He was trying to do tricks on his bicycle to show off for the girl next door.
“This is before my dad got to the birds and bees talk,” Eversley said. “I was trying to impress her.
“That obviously didn’t work. She went in the house laughing, and I ended up with a lifelong scar.”
He can’t recall how many stitches were needed to put his eye back together — “My whole face was a mess” — but he knows it took six to close up the wound over his right eye after catching an elbow March 13 in Cal Poly’s quarterfinal victory over Cal Irvine in the Big West Tournament.
“I told my teammates I’d take another six stitches for my eye if it meant getting another ring,” Eversley said.
Eversley, a 6-foot-7 forward, was named MVP of the tournament, taking the Mustangs to the title and an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs face top-seed Wichita State on Friday night.
While Eversley has given up the bike tricks, he said, “I’m a person who still likes to live on the edge.”
Let point guard Jamal Johnson qualify that statement.
“I wouldn’t say on the edge,” Johnson said. “Chris is just really emotional and energetic. He’s the emotional leader of the team.
“He’s the guy with all the fire.”
Leading Cal Poly in scoring (13.7) and rebounding (7.2) wasn’t enough. Eversley needed to dig deep to keep providing an emotional boost for a team that struggled all season until it caught fire at the end.
A tough non-conference schedule had them flying more than 25,000 miles so they could play — and lose — at far-flung places like Delaware and Pitt as well as closer to home at Arizona, Stanford and Oregon.
Injuries took out two of their sharp-shooters, Kyle Odister and Reese Morgan.
Add it up and Cal Poly became the only team in the NCAA Tournament with a losing record.
“I know, we’ve heard that a few times,” Eversley said. “But we’re proud of what we’ve done. We kept playing with heart because we knew we’d be good at the end.”
At the very, very end. The Mustangs, 14-19, lost seven of their last nine games before winning the league tournament.
Odister healed up from a stress fracture in his foot to play full time in the tournament. Morgan, who began to play in mid-February after undergoing knee surgery last summer, drilled a hole in Texas Southern’s defense to help the Mustangs win their NCAA Tournament opening-round game on Wednesday.
“You keep your focus, stay determined,” said Eversley, who had 19 points and nine rebounds against Texas Southern, “and you can get there. It’s how you finish that’s important.”
He learned that at home.
His father, Mike, played at Chicago State and in 1979 for the Chicago Bulls. His 6-foot-3 mother, Nina, played basketball at Long Beach State. And one of his older brothers, Jordan, played football at Missouri State.
“We had some pickup games that you wouldn’t believe,” Eversley said.
Recruited by most of the mid-major Illinois schools, he chose Rice.
That lasted one year. He played 16 games for the Owls and started one as a freshman. A Cal Poly assistant who knew somebody in Chicago who had heard Eversley was looking to transfer got in touch with him.
“It was a mutual decision on my part and the Rice coaching staff,” Eversley said. “I felt I had to find another fit for me.”
He chose a school in San Luis Obispo. “We’re one of the happiest cities in America,” Odister said. And Cal Poly is known for more than basketball.
“I knew if basketball didn’t work out, the academics would,” Eversley said. “I knew I’d get a great education. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
“And here I am four years later not complaining at all.”