After a year on bench, Evans embracing new role
ALBANY D.J. Evans is a quiet guy. Too quiet for University at Albany head coach Will Brown’s taste.
But now that the 5-foot-9 senior has taken over the starting point guard role, don’t be surprised to hear a few more words to match his actions.
Evans, whose given name is Dantonio Jaleel, put up a solid stat line during the Great Danes’ season-opening victory over Siena last Friday night at the Times Union Center, and he was beaming with confidence as UAlbany prepared for its home opener tonight at 7 against New Jersey Institute of Technology at SEFCU Arena.
Evans, who averaged just 2.4 points per game in a little under 10 minutes per contest last year, popped in a career-high 12 points, including 7-for-7 from the line, and he added a career-best six steals during the Danes’ 74-62 win over the Saints.
“I’m the [starting] point guard now,” said Evans, who transferred from East Mississippi Junior College last year after an outstanding two-year career at the NJCAA level. “I’m just going to do my own thing. Last year, I knew my role. Mike Black was the fourth-year point guard, and I respected his place on the team.
“I just wanted to do everything I could to help this team win.”
Evans filled in for Black a few times when Black was injured, and he scored 10 points last February against University of Maryland Baltimore County. But for the most part, he sat on the bench, waiting his turn.
This season, Evans figures it’s time to step into the spotlight.
“I got a lot stronger, and my jump shot is more consistent,” he said. “Coach has me talking more. I’m a quiet guy, but on the court, I’m more vocal. I knew my spot last year on the team, and I learned from the veteran guys. I have to be more vocal now, because I have to relay coach Brown’s message to my teammates. He depends on me, and I’ve got a job to do.”
Evans said Brown practically gave him the keys to the Danes’ offense in preseason.
“He told me to go out there, play hard and earn the spot, and just take it. In my mind, I already knew that I was the point guard, but I didn’t want to get complacent,” Evans said.
Evans said the six steals he made against the Saints was just a sample of the kind of defense he can play.
“I’ve always been a defensive guy. People look at me and say he’s small, but I’ve been a good defensive player,” he said.
Asked to give himself a grade for his debut as the starting point guard, Evans was a bit reluctant.
“I’m not sure what grade I would get, but I would say I passed,” he said. “I think I have a lot more to improve on as a player and a teammate. I think I’ll get better. My teammates always knew what kind of person I was and what kind of player I was. As far as being more vocal, I held my place before. Now, I feel it’s my place to speak up.”
Brown said he wasn’t surprised with Evans’ performance against Siena.
“He rattled their point guard with his pressure,” said Brown. “I told him that he needs to get us 10 points a game. He makes free throws, he makes open shots, and he’s a pest on defense. He knows how we want to play. He has a chance to have a good year for us.”
Brown recruited Evans after he produced 15.6 points and 4.4 assists per game over two seasons at East Mississippi J.C., where he guided his team to a 48-11 record and two trips to the NJCAA national tournament. Evans was named a NJCAA All-American.
“D.J. was one of the best junior college point guards in the country,” said Brown. “He is very quick and does a great job of pushing the ball in transition and getting in to the lane. He is a pest on defense and comes from one of the best junior college programs in the country.
“He’s still a quiet kid, a nice kid. He’d rather be sitting back in Mississippi with his fishing pole. He’s really laid back.”
But Evans is beginning to turn up the volume.
“I think confidence is important,” said sophomore swingman Peter Hooley, who will share some of the point-guard duties with Evans when the Danes go to a taller lineup. “We know how good he really is. Now, he’s had a chance to prove that. He’s a heck of a player and will do nothing but help us. He’s definitely stepped up in a leadership role, for sure. He’s a veteran now.”