Jan. 5, 2013

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Jontel Evans tries his best to stay positive and upbeat when he’s a spectator, but he’s happiest when he’s on the basketball court, and it shows in his demeanor and his body language.

Evans couldn’t stop smiling Friday afternoon. For the second straight day, he took part in practice at John Paul Jones Arena, and for the second straight day he had no pain in his right foot afterward.

“Everything is great,” Evans said. “Feeling fine. Everything’s fine. Just trying to get back in the swing of things.”

At one point Friday he stole a rebound from 6-8 Travis Watson, a former UVa star who was helping out with a drill, prompting both to laugh. At other times during practice, Evans passed to Paul Jesperson for a layup, found Darion Atkins open inside and fed Mike Tobey for an easy basket.

“Way to work, Bub!” shouted director of basketball operations Brad Soucie, a courtside observer.

Evans is “a little tired,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, “but just his ability to put pressure on a defense makes a difference.”

A 5-11 senior from Bethel High School in Hampton, Evans has started 71 games at point guard for UVa, but only one this season.

On Oct. 2, Evans had surgery to repair a stress fracture on that foot. He made his 2012-13 debut in Virginia’s third game, Nov. 13 against Delaware, but soreness in his foot limited him to three minutes that night. He sat out the Cavaliers’ next three games before returning Nov. 28 to play 16 minutes in a win over Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Three days later, against Green Bay, Evans played 23 minutes, and the injury appeared to be behind him. But then came the Dec. 5 game against Tennessee at JPJ. With 13:41 left in the second half, Evans limped off the court after reinjuring his foot, and he hasn’t played since.

That may change Sunday night. At 8 o’clock, Virginia (10-3) hosts North Carolina (10-3) at JPJ in the ACC opener for both teams.

“I’m expecting to play,” said Evans, a member of the ACC’s all-defensive team in 2011-12. “They cleared me, so I’m expecting to play.”

While his teammates trained on the main court Tuesday, Evans was in the men’s practice gym with Malcolm Brogdon, who’s redshirting this season, and strength-and-conditioning coach Mike Curtis, who put the two guards through various drills.

“I did a lot of things with Malcolm, shooting, cutting and playing defense,” Evans recalled Friday. “And then after that, the next morning, it felt great.”

The Wahoos were off Wednesday, but Evans practiced with the team on a limited basis Thursday afternoon, with no ill effects. When he saw Bennett on Friday morning, Evans said, the Cavaliers’ coach “asked me how I was doing. I told him I was doing fine and was just ready to play again.”

Friday brought more signs of progress. “He did a little more today — he didn’t do full — but he did a little more today than [Thursday],” Bennett said. “He knows that he’s gotta be smart, but he’s at that point where he’s three months [from the surgery].”

When he returned in late November for the Wisconsin game, Evans said, “I felt like I was a tad bit rusty. Well, scratch that. I was rusty, a lot. But this time I feel like I’m in the better swing of things and the rust is off and I’m just ready to get back.”

Evans meets daily with head athletic trainer Ethan Saliba, who treats the foot with ice and laser therapy.

He wears an orthotic in his right shoe, “a new one,” Evans said. “It’s actually better. I like it more [than the previous one]. It takes more stress off where I had surgery.”

As for the foot itself, the “only way it feels is tired,” Evans said. “That’s it. It doesn’t hurt or anything. Gotta strengthen it up, but other than that it’s good.”

With Evans sidelined, Teven Jones has had to take on many of the point-guard responsibilities for the `Hoos. A 6-0 freshman from Kannapolis, N.C., Jones is averaging 4.1 points, 2.5 assists and 23.7 minutes. He’s shooting 32.4 percent from the floor and 84.2 from the line.

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