PORT ARTHUR —
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column from the Best of West collection was first published in the Port Arthur News on April 8, 1979.
Without rolling the dice a single time, drawing 21 from a generous dealer or hitting a mammoth slot machine payoff, Earl Evans may have struck it rich last weekend in Las Vegas.
Evans, the former Lincoln great who is destined to become the first Port Arthuran to play in the NBA, sent his stock soaring with a Pizza Hut Classic performance that should have earned him the game’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Going head up against Player of the Year Larry Bird most of the time he was on the floor, Evans led all scorers with 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and defended Bird extremely well. The Indiana State superstar hit just 5-of-17 from the floor on the way to scoring 17 points.
Surprisingly, Bird was named MVP.
“It didn’t make any sense at all,” said Texas’ Abe Lemons, who coached Evans’ West team. “On that particular day, Earl was the best player on the floor. If you check the time Bird played against him, you’ll find he didn’t do much. Earl deserved the trophy. I didn’t know much about him, but he sure impressed me.”
Evans was so pleased with his effort he didn’t let the MVP oversight bother him. From Honolulu, where he’s preparing for the Aloha Classic, Evans said he felt the Pizza Hut game would be very helpful in his upcoming contract negotiations.
“I needed a big game and I was really psyched up for it,” he said. “All the pro teams had somebody there. A game like that is a good chance to check out what guys can do against the best players in the country. I have to think the game was worth several thousands dollars to me.”
Evans finds himself in an enviable position as the draft nears. Taken as a future by the Detroit Pistons in the seventh round after his junior season, he can go with them or have his name resubmitted. Considering his season at UNLV, and his Pizza Hut performance, he’s almost certain to be a first round selection.
“I’m not sure what I’ll do,” said Texas’ 1974 Schoolboy Player of the Year. “If Detroit makes me the right offer, I wouldn’t mind playing there. I’m pretty much going to leave it up to my agent. I’m confident he’ll get me the best deal.”
Evans’ confidence is certainly not misplaced. His agent is none other than Mike Trope, the Californian noted for the blockbuster packages he hammered out for football players Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Chuck Muncie and Anthony Davis. Trope settles for nothing short of top dollar for a small but elite clientele.
“I got acquainted with him when I was going to school at Southern Cal,” explained Evans. “He rang me back this year and said he’d like to represent me. Most of the contracts he’s done are for football players. But he did deals for Reggie Theus and Freeman Williams last year and I know they were pleased.”
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.