Ex-Badger Evans continuing NBA dream with Wolves’ summer team
MINNEAPOLIS — On one side of the Target Center floor stood Zach LaVine, a baby-faced 19-year-old selected 13th overall in this year’s NBA Draft.
Ryan Evans lined up on the other, five years LaVine’s senior and still chasing his own opportunity.
When Evans first stepped up on the Wisconsin campus, LaVine and fellow first-rounders Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid were in junior high. Yet their superior talent and the NBA’s one-and-done era have them signing multimillion-dollar contracts while guys like Evans often circle the globe seeking a shot.
Much of it is due to a skill gap. But players like Evans, the flat-topped swingman who never missed a game during his four-year collegiate career, enter the professional ranks more refined.
That’s a double-edged sword. For one, NBA general managers like to take players with upside — four-year college players don’t tend to possess much.
But staying in Madison for four years before entering last year’s draft had its advantages, Evans claims.
Even after spending a year in the NBA Developmental League and requiring a strong showing with the Timberwolves’ Las Vegas Summer League team just to keep his name on the radar.
"A lot of times, professional coaches tell us there is a crossroads between the young NBA players and the overseas guys," Evans, who could wind up playing in Europe this upcoming season, told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. "After four or five years, sometimes they intersect."
For Evans, it’s a particularly uphill battle. Not only is he still seeking to exhibit his merits as an NBA-level athlete, but he’s also in the midst of a long transition from college power forward to professional small forward.
Playing in the NCAA tournament every year at Wisconsin — including a 2012 Sweet 16 — the 6-foot-6, 212-pound Phoenix, Ariz., native played a lot of power forward for coach Bo Ryan. But his frame doesn’t translate to the post in the NBA, even in an era when fours are stepping out and hitting more jump shots than ever before.
But his outside shooting isn’t becoming of a top-tier wing, either; in 33 games (17 starts) with the D-League’s Sioux Falls SkyForce last season, Evans made 27.5 percent of his 3-point attempts and shot just 38.3 percent from the field overall.
"I think scouts want to see me shoot the ball and just be able to play" at this year’s summer league, Evans said. "You don’t want to force things, but at the same time, you want to be an aggressive."
Starting with Minnesota’s 5:30 p.m. matchup with Dallas on Saturday at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, Evans will attempt to walk that tightrope. The undrafted free agent played four games with Detroit in last year’s summer league, averaging 7.3 points, three rebounds and a steal per game.
This time around, he’ll share minutes with Shabazz Muhammad and Glenn Robinson III, among others.
If he’s not able to earn an NBA training camp invite this year, Evans says he may turn his sights toward playing overseas. But that’s the next means to one acceptable end, he added.
"Never content — no time to be patient, I wouldn’t say," said Evans, who holds the Wisconsin school record for games played (138). "You’re constantly trying to push the envelope and make it to the top level, which is the NBA. But I understand that there’s other avenues of getting there as well."
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