Iowa point guard Bakari Evelyn expects to play a lot this winter. Here's what he thinks he can contribute in his lone season as a Hawkeye: Mark Emmert, firstname.lastname@example.org
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Sixteen years later, Bakari Evelyn and Cedrick Lattimore are reunited as Iowa athletes.
They were childhood friends in Michigan and rivals on the football field. Lattimore stuck with that sport and has worked his way into a starting defensive tackle role for the Hawkeyes.
Evelyn gravitated toward basketball and took a roundabout path to Iowa City, arriving two weeks ago as a potential starting point guard for a team that suddenly needs one this winter.
“I think there’s opportunity for me to play a lot of minutes,” Evelyn said Wednesday. “It was just the right fit and pretty good timing. Them having some transfers and uncertainty about Jordan’s (Bohannon) health. And also me having a good relationship with coach Fran (McCaffery) and coach (Sherman) Dillard.”
Evelyn originally chose Nebraska over Iowa coming out of high school. He played sparingly for the Cornhuskers, then transferred to Valparaiso. His sophomore year was decent, as he averaged 12.6 points and 2.9 assists. He shot 38.3% from the 3-point arc. But he also suffered an ankle injury that required offseason surgery.
Evelyn thinks he tried to return from surgery too soon, and his numbers last year reflected that. He averaged 8.4 points, 2.1 assists and made only 30.6% of his 3s.
Then he was on the move again, looking for one more stop where he could prove himself. Minnesota and Wisconsin were in the picture. So were Rhode Island, New Mexico State and Nevada.
But the Hawkeyes lost guards Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey to transfers. Bohannon, the three-year starting point guard, had hip surgery and is likely to miss this season while recovering.
McCaffery and Dillard made it clear they still liked Evelyn’s game and saw him as a good fit in their up-tempo offense. Even old Detroit-area friends Lattimore and Hawkeye offensive tackle Alaric Jackson reached out.
Evelyn chose Iowa. But first, he had to intern for a former high school coach in Arizona to finish up his sports management degree.
He has spent his first two weeks as a Hawkeye getting to know another new set of teammates. He said he was eager to show them what he can do.
Evelyn is also eager to show Iowa fans, and maybe even himself, what he can accomplish in one final collegiate season.
He has heard the rumor that he’s not an accomplished shooter. He smiled when this was brought up Wednesday.
“I can shoot it a little bit,” Evelyn said. “I don’t know where (the rumor) came from. I guess it’s just something else I’ve got to prove this season.”
At 6-foot-3 with a 6-6 wingspan, Evelyn thinks he can help Iowa on the defensive end. He is an experienced pick-and-roll offensive player who believes his leadership will be beneficial there as well.
He'll have to adjust to the faster pace at which the Hawkeyes play.
“We ran a lot of sets at Valpo and kind of grinded the clock as much as we could,” Evelyn said. “It’s definitely up-tempo (at Iowa). That’s how we work out. That’s how we play open gym. There’s never too much walking going on. Everyone’s moving up and down. So it’s definitely fast-paced, and it’s definitely something I think fits my style.
“I think I can play both. I think I’m good in the half- and in the open court. I think I’m just good in space. We’ve got a lot of guys that can really shoot on the team, so I think that will spread the floor out and help me and other people make decisions.”
At age 22, Evelyn knows he’ll be expected to help lead a Hawkeye team coming off a 23-12 season that ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Iowa lost starters Tyler Cook, Moss and possibly Bohannon from that squad, however. Sixth man Nicholas Baer graduated.
Evelyn has been told he’s a natural leader. Playing point guard his whole life has reinforced that.
“I have a way of galvanizing people, and I kind of can relate to everybody. Because I’ve been around a little bit,” said Evelyn, who plans to study for a master's degree in sociology while at Iowa.
“I see it in myself. I don’t like to say it all the time. It’s all part of the makeup and the DNA. Me being a point guard for so long, I think it’s something I’m accustomed to and it’s something I’m not afraid of.”
Evelyn will battle for minutes with sophomore Connor McCaffery and freshman Joe Toussaint. Redshirt freshman CJ Fredrick might work into the mix at point guard as well. He knows a starting spot is not guaranteed, but he also knows he was brought here for a reason.
“I don‘t feel too much pressure,” Evelyn said. “I feel it’s more like an opportunity where I can take advantage of it as best as I can.
“To come here and show what I can do on this stage, help this team that’s already proven to win games and be a good team in college to hopefully get over the hump to the next step and get a little further.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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