By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Tony Bennett’s instructions for Jontel Evans after the 2009-10 season ended?
“I told him to get quicker and faster,” Bennett said last week.
UVa’s second-year men’s basketball coach paused for effect and smiled.
“No, I’m just kidding,” Bennett added. “That I think he’s pretty good at.”
Indeed, Evans’ athleticism is striking, and the 5-11 point guard from Hampton is already a suffocating on-the-ball defender. At the other end of the court, however, Evans struggled as a freshman in 2009-10. And that in turn made it easier for opponents to defend the other Cavaliers.
“It was a lot of times last year where they passed it to me and I just gave up the wide-open shot, because my confidence wasn’t there,” Evans said last week during UVa’s media day at John Paul Jones Arena. “But this year I’m going to take it upon myself, I have to knock that shot down if I’m open to make the defense play honest.”
As a Bethel High senior, Evans averaged 14.2 points and was a scoring threat whom other teams couldn’t ignore. In his first season at UVa, though, he was 31 for 84 (36.9 percent) from the floor and 2 for 12 (16.7) from 3-point range. At the line, Evans made only 9 of 16 attempts (56.3 percent).
In workouts with Evans, Bennett said, the coaching staff has been trying to “groove his shot, so it can become acceptable, where if people decide to lay off of him, that he can shoot it with confidence and have more success with that. So I know he paid the price and shot a ton of shots, really worked on trying to make his shot more consistent, a little more compact.”
“He’s shooting it better, certainly, when you watch him shoot just by himself” in the gym, Bennett said. The next step, of course, is for Evans to make those shots in a game.
He’s not likely to ever be confused with Chris Paul from the perimeter, but Evans would be happy to draw comparisons to another former Wake Forest point guard, Ish Smith.
During his college career, Smith became known for his dazzling repertoire of runners and floaters. Evans has the quickness to get into the lane for similar shots. The trick is making them over tall, athletic defenders.
“Last year I would get to the basket, and I still had the mindset that I was still in high school, where I could just lay it up and finish,” Evans said. “When I got here, I was falling short at the rim. But this summer, I watched a couple of Ishmael Smith’s tapes on YouTube and put the floater in my game. So I’ve just been shooting floaters a lot, [practicing] them in game-like situations.”
Evans played in all 31 games for Virginia in 2009-10, with 11 starts. He averaged 2.4 points, 1.9 assists, 1.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals.
This season, Evans will battle junior Sammy Zeglinski and freshman Billy Baron for playing time at the point. UVa opens practice Friday evening.