Freshman guard Jontel Evans is preparing for his first game as a member of the Virginia men’s basketball team on Friday (Nov. 13) when the Cavaliers host Longwood at John Paul Jones Arena to open the 2009-10 season. The 5-11 Evans is from Hampton, Va., and played at Bethel High School where he starred in both basketball and football. He was named the Co-Peninsula District Player of the Year in basketball as a senior and was also honored as the Male Athlete of the Year for 2008-09 by the Newport News Daily Press. Evans visited with VirginiaSports.com as he approached his first collegiate basketball game.
Question: How has the transition gone from high school to college?
Evans: The transition was tough in the summer, waking up early in the morning, lifting weights and then going to class and coming back in the afternoon to play basketball. It was tough in the beginning, but as fall came I got used to it and it became a lot easier.
Question: Do you feel as though you’ve settled in at Virginia?
Evans: Not until I play my first game. I feel welcome from the standpoint of the coaching staff, my teammates and the fans, but I need to play that first game.
Question: The previous coaching staff recruited you and after Coach Bennett was hired you waited before making a final decision. How did that play out?
Evans: I was real close with Coach Leitao and the previous coaching staff. When they left, my mind was in a whirlwind and I didn’t know what to do. Then I heard Tony Bennett had been hired and I didn’t know a lot about him. I started to read about him in the newspaper and got to know a little bit about him. He came to visit my family and me in my home and it was a wrap after that. I fell in love with his personality and his demeanor. He’s an all-around great guy and I just wanted to play for him. I wanted to stay committed to the University of Virginia.
Question: Was it difficult not playing football this fall?
Evans: Yes it was difficult. There’s a part of me that still loves football, but my passion is for basketball. I had to let some things go. All good things come to an end, so my football career came to an end my senior year in high school. Now I’m just focusing on basketball.
Question: What led you to the decision to play basketball in college rather than football?
Evans: I was being recruited for both. Football programs were waiting because they didn’t want to waste a scholarship on me because they didn’t know which sport I was going to play. Basketball programs were offering me because they wanted me to play basketball. That made my decision a lot easier because I had more offers in basketball and that led me to the decision to play college basketball.
Question: What did you work on this summer in preparation for the upcoming season?
Evans: I worked on my conditioning, running the hill over by Washington Park, and my shooting. Jeff Jones has me in the gym working on my shot. I want to be the kind of point guard who can dump it inside, but when the big man is in trouble he can depend on me to make the shot when he kicks the ball back out.
Question: You mentioned conditioning and you’ve lost some weight. Did you have a goal of losing a certain amount of weight before the start of the season?
Evans: Before I got here in early July I kind of let myself go. I was relaxing and just being Mr. Cool Guy. I wasn’t working out and I got overweight. I came in here at about 200 pounds and Coach Curtis did a wonderful job with my body and my conditioning and got me down to 185. I feel great – faster, stronger, quicker, everything.
Question: You have a reputation of being a very good on-the-ball defender. Is that something you take a lot of pride in?
Evans: Yes, I take a lot of pride in my defense. When I was playing AAU basketball for coach Howard Chamblee and my father, Walter Evans, they drilled into my head at a young age that you’ve got to be able to stop somebody. You can’t play basketball unless you can stop somebody. Since then I’ve been taking pride in my defense. I want to stop people. I get excited when I rip somebody at half court and go in for a lay-up. I think that brings energy to the team and to the crowd.
Question: How would you describe your offensive game?
Evans: In high school I could penetrate into the paint at will, but in college I’m not going to be able to get to the paint as easily as I did in high school. The guys at this level are bigger, stronger and faster. That’s why I’m working on my jump shot. My offense this year will probably be like a pass first point guard, not looking to score because I’ve got great scorers on my team. If I kick it to them, I’m getting back on defense. That’s how much confidence I have in them.
Question: Have the practices been what you expected?
Evans: The practices have been tough. I knew leaving high school and coming here that the practices would be tough and that it would be real competitive.
Question: How has it been working with Coach Bennett and his staff?
Evans: It has been wonderful. They embraced me and welcomed me with open arms. Coach Bennett still recruited me when he easily could not have, but he’s a big defensive guy and I guess he heard about my defense. It has been great working with the coaching staff. They’re my new family.
Question: With the first game approaching, I imagine you and the team are anxious to get the preseason behind you and play in a game.
Evans: All the guys are anxious. Today when we scrimmaged I got a steal and a fast break with just the goal and me. I told Mustapha if that was on Friday I probably would have tried to dunk it, I was so excited. All the guys are anxious to show the world what we’ve got because we’re going to be a sleeper in the ACC. We’re getting better every day. If we just listen to the coaching staff and believe in ourselves we can do some special things this year.
'Hoos Exit With Heads Held HighWomen's Basketball3/19/18In its first trip to the NCAA tourney since 2010, 10th-seeded Virginia went 1-1 in Columbia, S.C., defeating seventh-seeded Cal and losing to second-seeded South Carolina.'Hoos Look To Take Next Step in NCAA TourneyWomen's Basketball3/18/18A win Sunday night over second-seeded South Carolina would send 10th-seeded Virginia to the NCAA tournament's Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2000.End Comes Too Soon for No. 1 CavaliersMen's Basketball3/17/18In the NCAA tournament's first round, No. 1 seed Virginia lost 74-54 to No. 16 seed UMBC in a South Region game in Charlotte, N.C.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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