SALT LAKE CITY — Before Saturday's scrimmage, the Utah Jazz's furry mascot watched pregame festivities with his lowest paws and claws perched atop the hoop, 10 feet off the court.
Judging the intrasquad game, Bear won't be the only Jazz guy who spends time above the rim and off the hardwood this season.
Rookie Jeremy Evans, a 6-9 bundle of energy from Western Kentucky, opened eyes with an impressive debut for Jazz fans who might've been unaware that the team's second-round pick had pogo sticks for legs.
"He's a freaky athlete," Jazz guard Raja Bell said. "That's gifted athleticism right there."
And there. Oh, now he's over there. Just like that, he's way up there.
"We are all excited about his ability, just (to) get up so quick and so easy," marveled another highly touted athlete on the team, Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko. "We just like jealous a little bit, like, 'Ah, I want to be like him right now.' "
During the scrimmage, Evans used his coveted skills in putback and dunking situations. Somewhere in EnergySolutions Arena, general manager Kevin O'Connor had to be smiling about the 2010 No. 55 overall pick, who could turn out to be his latest second-round steal.
Evans' athleticism isn't the only thing making the team excited about his future. He's also grasping an offensive system that has many moving parts.
"He's a pretty intelligent basketball player, not just (with) athletic ability," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "His intelligence of seeing and knowing what's going on is not by accident.
"A lot of people have got the athletic ability," Sloan added, "but they can't do anything with it. He seems to do quite a bit."
Kirilenko went so far to say the soon-to-be 23-year-old small forward has the tools, the quicks, hops and height, to become the "perfect 3."
One big potential problem is that Evans makes the beefier-but-still-thin Kirilenko look like a bodybuilder. They're both the same height, but the Arkansas native weighs about 40 pounds less than AK-47 at 196 pounds.
Evans could be frighteningly freaky for the Jazz if he solidifies his frame, allowing him to bang with and hold his position better against larger NBA players.
"He's still young. He needs to work out," Kirilenko advised. "With his abilities, if he kind of finds that way to get under the basket, kind of avoid the defender, he's going to be unstoppable."
Evans was never a big scorer, averaging an even 10.0 ppg as a senior, but held his own with his size in college. He finished as WKU's all-time leader in blocks (224) and field-goal percentage (.639), even helped the Hilltoppers topple Deron Williams' old school, Illinois, in the NCAA Tournament as a junior in 2009.
And consider this about Evans' versatility: He averaged 6.9 rebounds. He also averaged 0.69 assists.
This past summer, Evans put up 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in 16.6 minutes for the Jazz's summer-league squad. More important that stats, Evans believes that Orlando Pro League experience gave him a head start heading into fall camp. He was able to familiarize himself with the plays.
Now Evans, who's on a nonguaranteed contract, is soaking in everything he can in the hopes of winning a permanent roster spot.
Like Sloan, Evans believes his athleticism overshadows his hoops aptitude.
"A lot of guys just go out and try to play hard, but they're not in position or not helping," he said. "Where I try to get in those positions and help, I think I know (the system) well, just from how much time I've been here, and I'm ready to keep pushing and go forward."
Pardon the Jazz while they imagine what could be by putting his mass in motion with more muscle.
"Our biggest concern will be about his body, when people start going after him and that sort of thing," Sloan admitted. "That will take care of itself. He's a young man, and (he's) certainly got a lot to work with and try to make himself better."
Bell smiled while talking about Evans' "impact" potential.
"With a guy that can move like that and can be above the rim," Bell said, "there's just so much opportunity for him to make a difference — if he can pick up what we're trying to do and just be really active with that kind of athleticism and body."
Evans thoroughly enjoyed Saturday's scrimmage — "Every minute of it," he said — from experiencing the vocal Jazz fans at ESA to being able to play.
Evans left with one minor regret. He didn't get a blocked shot.
"So," he said, "I'm going to be hungry the next time I get on the court."18 comments on this story
And above it.