Tim Sullivan: Louisville’s Dennis Evans Is A Giant With Room To Grow

Dennis Evans’ reach far exceeds his grasp. It allows him to stand flat-footed on a basketball floor and raise his hands to within four inches of the rim, forcing opponents to reassess their shot selections for fear of being resoundingly rejected.

What he needs is a lot more bulk and a better grip.

Louisville’s spindly 7-foot-1 freshman is the most striking member of Kenny Payne’s recruiting class and, at the same time, a raw talent in need of refinement. He is too slight for sustained banging beneath the backboards and not nearly as handy as you might hope in grabbing rebounds or catching bounce passes.

But stay tuned. This giant has room to grow.

In his first public appearance at the KFC Yum! Center, Evans made five dunks, blocked five shots, and intimidated numerous teammates in UofL’s annual Red and White Scrimmage Wednesday night. He was also charged with three turnovers – two of them in the first minute of play – but finished the night with the best plus/minus figure on the floor.

The Red team prevailed, 62-51, but it was 18 points better with Evans in the lineup. If he is not yet all he can be, or will be, his presence alone changes the Cardinals’ profile. Henceforth, opponents’ layups will entail a significantly greater degree of difficulty.

“Having Dennis under the basket, I love to attack downhill, but I’ve got to deke,” UofL guard Skyy Clark said. “Even throwing lobs, like I usually go to the basket, act like I’m going for a layup, but throw a lob. But I’ve got to throw it over the backboard, over the little scoreboard up top. It just makes the game so much harder. So he’s going to be amazing for us.”

Evans was not made available during UofL’s post-game media interviews. He was signing autographs courtside.

Originally committed to the University of Minnesota as that school’s highest-ranked prospect in nearly 20 years, Evans sought release from his letter of intent in February and subsequently became Payne’s prize recruit, a player the coach described as “one of the most unique high school players in the country.”

Evans’ 7-foot-7 wingspan is an inch wider than that of Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading rebounder in 2022-23. His most glaring deficiency is that, at 215 pounds, he’s prone to getting pushed around by more physical players and/or a strong breeze.

“I think his development comes from a number of things — getting the body in enough shape and strong enough to handle getting up and down the court,” Payne said. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s, you’d just stick him under the basket and say, ‘Whatever comes in there, you block it.’ Nowadays, you have five men who shoot threes. . .”

This demands more mobility and stamina from a center on defense. Payne’s challenge is to get more mileage from Evans while simultaneously adding more muscle.

“I don’t know exactly how much weight he’s gained, but I can tell you from the first day till today, he’s made a drastic change,” Payne said. “It probably sounds a little scary because he has a lot more in him that we’ve got to get out.

“The whole key is movement. We got to get his ankle stronger. We got to get his knees stronger. We got to get his hips stronger. We got to get him to anticipate things before they happen. At that length, with his feel, with his touch, he can be a force. But if he can’t move well enough, he’ll always be behind the action. The challenge is to is to make sure that we keep him anticipating things and fighting to stay ahead of the game.”

Wednesday night, Evans sometimes appeared too timid, relying on his size instead of striding decisively into the fray. Yet more than once a White team dribbler retreated rather than drive toward an anticipated dead end. Teammates who have tested Evans in practice have learned to pick their spots.

Future foes are advised to proceed with caution.