Nov. 27, 2012
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- On the morning after Thanksgiving, 8 o'clock found Jontel Evans at his orthopedic surgeon's office. Dr. David Diduch took an X-ray of Evans' right foot -- not for the first time this fall -- and then the waiting game began anew for the UVa men's basketball team's senior point guard.
Evans' spirits were high, though, and his optimism proved to be well-founded.
"I went back home, got the call from Dr. Diduch, and he said my X-ray looked fantastic," Evans recalled Monday evening at John Paul Jones Arena.
And that, of course, is fantastic news for the Cavaliers (4-2), who leave Tuesday night for Wisconsin. In Madison, UVa (4-2) will take on Wisconsin (4-2) at 7 p.m. Eastern Wednesday at the 17,230-seat Kohl Center.
"It's perfect timing," said Evans, who started 70 games during his UVa career. "I'm glad to be back against Wisconsin. They're a great team. I heard it's really tough to play in there, and I'm just looking forward to the challenge.
ESPN2 will televise this ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, whose storylines include the return of Virginia coach Tony Bennett to the school where he was an assistant for four seasons. One of those seasons was 1999-2000, when his father, Dick, guided the Badgers to the Final Four.
"It's special to be part of that," Tony Bennett said last week.
Evans, who had surgery Oct. 2 to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, has appeared in only game this season. That was on Nov. 13, against Delaware in an NIT Preseason Tipoff game at JPJ. Evans played three minutes in the first half, after which his foot was sore, so he watched the rest of the game from the bench.
"At first I thought I'd messed it up again," Evans said Monday, "but me being a man of faith, it just wasn't the right time to come back. So I had to take a couple more games and just rest it, and now I'm back at full strength."
Before he was cleared to return to practice Friday, Evans said, he got plenty of rest, took lots of Vitamin D and used a bone stimulator to accelerate his foot's healing. He also trained under the supervision of Ethan Saliba, UVa's head athletic trainer.
"Ethan just eased me back into things, doing skipping patterns, defensive drills, having the managers guard me," Evans said, "just to get me back to my regular self."
Evans practiced Friday and Saturday. The team was off Sunday, then returned to the court Monday for a practice. Evans practiced with no pain Monday, too.
"It feels great," he said, "and it feels good to be back out here with my teammates."
Bennett said: "It's good to have him back. He's had three good practices and responded well. We wanted to be real smart and let him have ample time to recover, to build up a little more endurance in the foot."
UVa's medical staff won't determine how much Evans will be able to play against the Badgers until after practice Tuesday, Bennett said.
"Hopefully there won't be too many limitations," Bennett said, "but he's not where he needs to be from a conditioning standpoint. He's got to shake a little of the rust off, but hopefully his experience as a senior point guard will help him, and in these situations you play with your mind, and that can make a difference if you're a little behind."
Against Delaware, Evans took no shots, grabbed one rebound and turned the ball over twice in his three-minute stint. A win over the Blue Hens would have earned the Wahoos a trip to New York City, but they lost 59-53, in part because of their problems at point guard.
In addition to Evans, who made the ACC's all-defensive team in 2011-12, sophomore Malcolm Brogdon is out with a foot injury, and redshirt freshman Teven Jones missed Virginia's two closed scrimmages in preseason and its first three games. (He was suspended for the scrimmages and the opener and then suffered a shoulder injury.)
An unheralded recruit who spent the fall of 2011 at Fishburne Military Academy, the 5-11 Jones finally made his college debut Nov. 17, against Seattle, and he's been a revelation. In his three games -- all of which Virginia won, and two of which he started -- Jones has averaged 7.7 points and 2.3 assists, and he's 10 of 11 from the line.
"Man, he was fantastic," Evans said. "He's been through so much, over the summer, and in Europe, and then with his suspension. He's been mentally tough, and when his opportunity came, he took advantage of it and played great."
Bennett said: "Teven did a nice job for us in those three games, and hopefully he continues that. What he brought to us was something that we were missing, without Jontel and without Teven and without Malcolm."
With Jones at the point, the Cavaliers could put more pressure on the ball, Bennett said, and "it also let others play their natural spots."
Junior Joe Harris and sophomore Paul Jesperson, 6-foot-6 swingmen, could slide back to the wing "and not have to worry about guarding a point [guard] and bringing the ball up," Bennett said.
"It doesn't mean they won't handle it, but that just let guys slide back. And Teven gave us the thing that was really missing: He brought some athleticism on the perimeter of the floor. I think we have some quickness on the interior with Akil [Mitchell] and Darion [Atkins], but Teven helped us have a little more quickness, whether it's defensively or offensively, and Jontel will certainly help there, too."
Evans led the `Hoos in assists and steals in 2010-11 and in 2011-12. He averaged 7.3 points last season and raised his shooting accuracy to 47.1 percent from the floor and 62.1 percent from the line, all career highs for the former star at Hampton's Bethel High School.