Sometimes a prep basketball player, like new restaurants in town or that fishing spot only you know about, can take on a best-kept-secret vibe – known almost exclusively by the small numbers that’ve been there and seen him ball while remaining largely off the radar for those uninitiated.
But when that player puts it all together on multiple national stages, going round for round with some of the country’s elite talent, it becomes impossible to keep a lid on the secret.
That’s been the case over the last 11 months for St. Michael (Baton Rouge) 2015 wing Jacob Evans, recently tabbed the third most underrated player in America in a Scout survey of more than 100 college coaches.
“It all started last year in September when I went to John Lucas 40/40 Camp,” Evans recalled of his rise. “That was the starting point of it, and then I went to Pangos and Top 100 (this summer). And then we just ended in the Las Vegas Fab 48. So I feel like it started last year in September, and I’ve just been rolling ever since.”
Evans (6-5, 210) has indeed been on a roll, particularly in Las Vegas, where the three-star prospect led his Louisiana Dynasty AAU team to the tournament final less than two weeks ago. He posted a game-high 15 points and four rebounds in Dynasty’s close 50-46 loss to DC Premier.
Accompanying the big on-court performances for Evans has been a tidal wave of recruiting interest this summer, a surge that’s suddenly given him a plethora of options he couldn’t have dreamt of a year ago. More than two dozen programs have been after Evans, who listed off the top of his head offers from Auburn, Mississippi State, Cincinnati, Memphis, Oklahoma State, UAB, Houston, Georgia Tech and South Carolina as well as serious interest from Baylor and LSU.
“It’s really been an exciting time and it’s kinda overwhelming,” explained Evans. “When I look at it, last summer I wasn’t being recruited as heavily. I had a couple of schools, but now it’s like a lot of people want me all the sudden and that can be kinda exciting.”
If his climb to national notoriety feels like it’s come overnight, it hasn’t. Evans, who’s grown an inch and a half since the end of his junior season, has been putting in his dues to get there for quite some time. He’s also grown into a position of leadership.
“He’s our leader, and I told him that when he came in,” St. Michael head coach Drew Hart told TSD. “He couldn’t play up his freshman year, which he wasn’t ready to do anyway, but I told him starting sophomore year you’re going to run the point. A lot of people kinda thought it was crazy, but I’d seen him when he was younger playing in the little summer leagues and he could handle the ball. Just because he was tall didn’t mean I needed to stick him under the goal.
“He formed himself as a leader last year, and I expect everybody out there to watch him. If he’s going hard, then they’re expected to go hard. It’s his senior year now. I’m going to challenge him as hard as I possibly can. I have to help him get ready for that transition to the next level.”
And just who is this player on the floor that Hart is developing?
In his own words: “Defensively I can guard the one through the four, even a five in high school. On the AAU circuit I guarded the one through the four all summer. So it really doesn’t matter . . . On offense I prefer up-tempo and a team that gets out in transition. I feel like I’m better in transition, but I can also play in the half-court.”
Hart has a similar vision of Evans’ game and versatility. The Warriors coach also understands he’s using Evans differently than coaches will on the collegiate level.
“I think he’ll play more at the wing position in college,” Hart continued. “We run a motion offense here, and the way college basketball is as well, if you have guys that can rebound it and bring it up the floor, I mean I love that ability to have multiple guys that can get it and go instead of trying to find your point guard.
“Truthfully I have not played him in a role where I ran set plays to him. I ran set plays to a senior last year [Paul Ragusa] that ended up scoring 1,500 points in his career, a great shooter. Jacob is going to fill that role where he’s in a lot more set plays this year. He’s going to play off the point a little bit more. He really can play multiple positions on the floor, and we don’t know what his body is going to do as he just turned 17.”
As a junior Evans filled the stat sheet, posting averages of 17.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.5 steals en route to earning All-District and All-Metro team nods and notching honorable mention All-State honors.
The campaign ended in disappointment as St. Michael lost a tight contest at four-seed St. Thomas More in the second round of the 4A state playoffs. This time around Evans has a different finish in mind.
“I feel like we can go further in the playoffs because we’re a deeper team with more senior leadership,” said Evans. “The younger class and some of my younger teammates will have to step up at times, but I think we’re ready. Summer league went well for us, so I do feel like we’re ready.”
Opting to put focus and attention on his upcoming senior season, Evans will “most likely” sign in the late period in April. In fact there’s only one recruiting-related item on his agenda in the near future: trimming the fat, at least somewhat. Evans plans to cut his list down “to about seven” in the next two weeks.
To date no one school or coaching relationship has stood out to Evans. He’s been content with letting the process play out and the interest grow. “I pretty much have a good relationship with every coach I’ve met or talked to so far,” conceded Evans. “I try to get to know every coach who’s in touch and become friends with them. They’re all like equal right now.”
Evans, who already registered a 20 on the ACT, does know what he’ll be looking for, however, when it comes to criteria for choosing a college program.
“Well first the team has to be like a family. I’d like things to be real close, and I have to have a good relationship with the coaching staff,” Evans stressed. “Then I also want to be able to play as a freshman. Distance, it doesn’t really matter to me how close or how far away a school is.”
His coach concurs. “He just needs to be in a program where they’re going to show him love,” Hart explained. “He’s going to do what they ask him to do. If a program can do all that and just let his body develop, the sky is absolutely the limit for him.”
It’s been a long journey for Evans to become one of Louisiana’s top prospects, and Hart enjoys bringing things back to when he first grew aware of the youngster, some six or seven years ago.
“My mom has worked the last 17 years at the concession stand,” remembered Hart, “and the first time I ever met him [Evans] was when my mom told me ‘There is this little young boy that is so nice. He comes up every day and gets some Airheads and a Snickers, and he always says yes ma’am and no ma’am.’”
Evans laughed at Hart’s anecdote, saying he doesn’t go for the sweets much anymore but adding he still tries to be the same polite young man. More and more lately, as was on display during his monstrous summer, his game has been sweet enough.
Now it’s all about building on a stretch of time that put him on the map.
“I feel like this summer was a chance for me to show my talent,” Evans concluded. “I’ve always felt like I’ve been able to play with the best, and I actually got a chance to show that I can. It showed that I can be one of the best.”