PORT ARTHUR —
There was a time not so long ago when it appeared the Earl Evans story would not contain an NBA chapter. Following a senior season at Lincoln in which he averaged 28.6 pints and 19.5 rebounds, and was rated behind only Moses Malone in the 1974 schoolboy crop, the “Pearl” made a decision that nearly wrecked his basketball career.
In a position to pick virtually any school he wanted, Evans chose Southern Cal. It was a marriage doomed to failure almost from the start, given the controlled style of play advocated by Trojan mentor Bob Boyd. Frequently in and out of Boyd’s doghouse, Evans was gone before the end of his sophomore year.
Fortunately, he landed in Las Vegas, where Runnin’ Rebel coach Jerry Tarkanian’s pro-type game and way with those who’d been labeled “problem players” proved to be the perfect remedy. Evans sat out the year necessary to regain eligibility, started for two seasons and earned Tark’s undying respect.
“Earl is the hardest working athlete I’ve ever coached,” lauds Tarkanian. “I’d hate to think where we would have been without him this season. A lot of people were skeptical of him when he came here, but I can’t see why. He’s been a model athlete. The people here really love him. He’s a first round choice all the way.”
After a junior season in which he was forced to sacrifice his 6-8, 205 pound body in the middle because he was UNLV’s tallest player, Evans returned to his natural forward position as a senior. He led the Rebels in both scoring (17.9) and rebounding (10.1), after averaging 15.8 points and 10.2 rebounds last year.
Ironically, his senior year was the only time Evans hasn’t been forced to play out of position. Boyd, taking note of his exceptional quickness for a man 6-8, tried to make the Bumblebee All-America a guard. Then Tarkanian, minus a big man, stationed him at center. Some basketball watchers feel the switching around has hampered Evans’ development.
“Physically, Earl is a great player,” said Las Vegas Sun sports editor Bill Guthrie. “I think Boyd and Tarkanian messed him up by moving him like they did. He’s a natural forward and that’s where he should have been all along. I don’t think he’s completely gotten his rhythm back.”
Evans agrees to an extent, but says he may benefit in the long run.
“I think it hurt me as far as being at the peak of my game when I need to be,” he said. “Obviously, I’d be a better forward if I played there all the time. I think, though, that playing against smaller, quicker guards improved my quickness. And I believe battling all those big centers last year toughened me up as a rebounder.”
Evans figures to wind up at what the pros call the “small forward” position, at least if he goes to Detroit.
“Most of the coaches and scouts I’ve talked to say I’ll be a small forward,” Evans said. “They want me to concentrate on my shooting from the 15-foot range, rebounding and defense.”
Although he’ll be the first to tell you the two years he spent in California were invaluable from a standpoint of personal development, and that his three years in Las Vegas were extremely satisfying, Evans says he’d take a different course if he had it to do all over again.
“I’d stay close to home, probably the University of Houston or Lamar,” he reflected. “If Billy Tubbs had been at Lamar when I graduated from Lincoln, I’d probably have gone there. He’s a super guy and a great coach. It’s hard to believe what he’s done with that program.
“I knew when we played them in Las Vegas last year that they were going to be good,” Evans continued. “I was really happy for those guys when I found out they beat Detroit in the NCAA tournament. They’ve come a long way in a short time.”
So has Earl Evans.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com.