By Jeff White
GREENSBORO, N.C. — As a senior at Hampton’s Bethel High, Jontel Evans scored 33 points in a game against crosstown rival Kecoughtan.
The 5-11 point guard averaged 14.2 points that season, and “it wasn’t all layups,” Evans said Friday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum.
With his first season at UVa behind him, Evans’ mission is clear. He’s a dynamic on-the-ball defender, but until he becomes a scoring threat, the Cavaliers will continue to play 4-on-5 when he’s on the court.
“It’s just a confidence thing,” Evans said after UVa’s season-ending loss to eventual champion Duke in the ACC tournament.
“I don’t think my confidence was there in my shot. So that’s what I’m going to work on in the offseason: my shot, and building confidence.”
In its two games at the ACC tournament, ninth-seeded UVa beat No. 8 seed Boston College 68-62 and lost 57-46 to top-seeded Duke. Evans played 43 minutes in Greensboro, totaling 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 turnovers and 1 steal.
“He’s certainly a bulldog defensively and on the ball, and he provides such a spark for us, and sometimes he’ll create some offense from that,” Tony Bennett said after the final game of his first season as UVa’s coach.
Evans played suffocating defense in Greensboro, but he didn’t score. He was 0 for 5 from the floor — all those shots were from inside the 3-point arc — and didn’t attempt a free throw.
He’s aware of his weaknesses, and Evans is eager to get in the gym with Bennett, one of greatest shooters in college basketball history.
Together they’ll work on “tightening up [Evans’] shot, making it compact, becoming more consistent,” Bennett said. “Because certain teams will play us differently when he’s on the floor, and you have to be somewhat of a threat.”
In Greensboro, as he had all season, Evans showed the ability to dribble past his defender, but on those occasions when he didn’t pass and chose to shoot, the Wahoos came away with nothing.
“He’s got to work on finishing,” Bennett said. “This offseason will be important. But he’s so explosive and quick. He got in there, but you gotta be able to finish. Those are some tall trees and big boys in there.”
Evans appeared in all 31 games this season, starting 11. He played about 17 minutes a game and averaged 2.4 points, 1.9 assists, 1.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals, and he had only 27 turnovers.
His shooting numbers weren’t encouraging. Evans was 31 for 84 (36.9 percent) from the floor, 2 for 12 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range, and 9 for 16 (56.3 percent) from the line. Even so, his coach likes Evans’ upside.
“He got thrown into the fire a lot for a first-year guy,” said Bennett, who played point guard at Wisconsin-Green Bay and with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
“The experiences he had are invaluable. I mean, to play in this setting, to have to guard the Ish Smiths, the Malcolm Delaneys, the guards in this league that he’s gone against. So I think a lot was [asked of] him, and yes, he’ll have to improve, as will all of our guys in the offseason.”
Evans will “grow from this,” Bennett said. “But finishing’s big. We work on finishing a lot. We get the sticks and the pads and we have our guys drive.”
“I guess we need bigger pads and taller sticks to get them better,” he said.
Sammy Zeglinski, who’ll be a junior in 2010-11, played some point during the ACC tournament, but the coaches prefer to use him at shooting guard. Which means Evans will be a candidate to start as a sophomore.
He’s excited about the future, not only his but the Cavaliers’.
“We took the first step with Coach Bennett,” Evans said. “I think it’s going to be some great things.”