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USFs Evans treading water -- is land in sight

Preceding Evans, Phil Mathews had recorded six winning seasons out of the nine years he was on the Hilltop, posting a 139-123 overall record, 64-62 in conference. But such wasn't satisfactory or enough.
In his final go-around, the former Ventura Community College mentor led the Dons to 17-14, 7-7 marks respectively. These are numbers that typically don't result in the firing of a head coach at the level of USF but the powers-that-be, correct or incorrect, wanted a change in the Dons program. Mathews was certainly demanding, with an interesting vocabulary but he ran a disciplined program and his players went to class, or else.
So enter Jessie Evans.

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PRODUCTION
So what has Evans produced? In three years, his record is: 41-49 overall, 21-21 in conference.
2005 -- 17-14 overall, 6-8 in conference
2006 -- 11-17 overall, 7-7 in conference
2007 -- 13-18 overall, 8-6 in conference
Evans' last squad lacked team chemistry, attributed by many to a combination of a batch of newcomers to the team, untimely injuries and player suspensions. But the talent in the playing rotation also wasn't highly compatible nor consistent. Plus, the Dons suffered from a miniscule presence in the paint, being undersized against just about every opponent.
Such usually isn't the situation for the third season for most coaches. 'Their' recruits are usually in place by that time. So it's a natural to look at Evans' recruiting.
RECRUITING
Let's take a look at each of Evans' classes. During the 2004-05 recruiting season, he brought in six newcomers:
* Jesse Byrd, a forward from Bishop O'Dowd High in Oakland, in the East Bay
* Omar Samhan, a 6-9 center from San Ramon Valley High, again considered in the East Bay
* Drew Shiller, a point and three sport star from Burlingame High, down the peninsula
* James Morgan, a burly 6-9 power forward out of Seattle's Rainer Beach High
* Danny Cavic, a sophomore sharp-shooting two guard from Santa Ana JC
* Antonio Kellogg, a very talented backcourt transfer from Connecticut but a prepster at McClymonds High in Oakland
To date, what has happened with this group is:
* Byrd transferred from USF this year after never finding a role
* Samhan, hindered by an academic roadblock, was never admitted to USF and ended up redshirting the season at St. Mary's. Last year, he made the West Coast Conference All-Freshman team for the Gaels, reinforcing that a talent like his is the missing inside presence the Dons so desperately still need
* Shiller was not a good fit with USF from the get-go and should have never signed or been signed. He also departed and is now at Stanford
* Morgan is currently being played up by Evans to see a goodly number of minutes in 2007-08 but that remains to be seen
* Cavic is a solid outside shooter but limited in his other on-court production.
* Kellogg bowed out of the Dons program after playing one season and is now attemptng to turn pro overseas
Give Evans credit for nabbing four locals in this bunch but it's glaring that none now remain at USF -- not the way to construct a program or provide stability. So far, he has a little used prep center who played all of 37 minutes last season, along with a guard possessing shooting range and a 6.0 ppg. scoring average, to show for his efforts. The most talented, Kellogg, was a gamble to begin with -- Evans rolled the dice but lost.
For 2005-06, Evans focused on frontcourt help, landing two preps, a community college transfer and a highly rated D-1 transfer:
* Jared Casey, a 6-10 frontcourter from a Vancouver, B.C. high school
* Jay Watkins, a small forward from Hamilton High in Memphis
* Terrell Anderson, a wing from City College of San Francisco
* Dior Lawhorn, a 6-7 active and athletic frontcourter who spent one season at Texas Tech
Casey is a Canadian with some promise but is still adjusting to the Division I level of play. He was on court for 117 minutes last season. Watkins earned 23 starts, posting averages of 6.2 ppg. and 3.5 rpg., demonstrating the best promise of all of Evan's original recruits to date. Sadly, Anderson was shot and killed while still a player at CCSF. Lowhorn will be USF's most productive player this coming season.
This past season, Evans corraled:
* Wendell McKines, a power forward from Richmond High
* Myron Strong, a backcourter out of Hamilton High in Memphis
* Andre Hardy, a small forward prepping at New Hampton School in New Hampshire
McKines was denied admission to USF (he is headed to New Mexico St. instead) but would have been the most talented addition. A banger who has the spectacular down and now needs to develop the routine, McKines would have supplied physical play upfront. Strong is the second recruit out of Memphis' Hamilton High for Evans but isn't expected to have much impact next season. The rumor is that Hardy, like McKines, will never appear in a USF uniform.
NEXT YEAR'S ROSTER
So, adding this year's recruits to the returning players of consequence, the year-by-year USF roster breakdown is this:
SENIORS
Danny Cavic 6-6/210 G/F senior Tustin, CA (Santa Ana JC transfer)
Vince Polakovic 6-8/235 F senior Bratislava, Slovakia (Northern Iowa transfer)
JUNIORS
Manny Quezada 6-2/185 G junior New York, NY (Rutgers transfer)
James Morgan 6-9/240 C junior Seattle, WA
SOPHOMORES
Hyman Taylor 6-9/245 C redshirt sophomore Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Jared Casey 6-11/230 C sophomore Maple Ridge, BC
Dior Lowhorn 6-7/230 F redshirt sophomore San Francisco, CA (Texas Tech transfer)
Jay Watkins 6-8/195 F sophomore Memphis, TN
FRESHMEN
Myron Strong 6-2/180 G Memphis, TN
There remains the possibility that Evans will sign additional prospects as a number of roster openings have yet to be filled.
WHERE EVANS CURRENTLY STANDS
Evans is losing four out of his top five scorers, including guards Armondo Surratt and the aforementioned Kellogg, a crippling fact for most coaches in the midst of developing a program. However, both Surratt and Kellogg proved to be inconsistent difference makers and neither made his teammates more effective last season. Kellogg's departure caught supporters by surprise, coming during this summer after the completion of his sophomore season.
The recruiting efforts of Evans to date have been middling at best, scoring much greater success with bounceback players than with his direct-to-USF signees. The best talents he has corraled -- Lowhorn, Kellogg, Surratt, Quezada -- came in after testing their fortunes at other D-1 schools. Watkins is the best player who came straightaway to the Hilltop.
It's been but three years, but can Evans claim he has taken USF to a higher level than the teams under Matthews? The current answer is no. But in fairness, it's too soon to make any final judgment. However, he needs to quickly demonstrate he can create greater stability with his roster. There's been too many comings-and-goings for a program in the midst of reestablishing/repositioning itself.
Can Evans say he has positioned the USF program better for future success? He would be much further along the way if he had been able to retain the departed members of his initial recruitng class. He needs to get USF seen as a prime initial destination for local talent. Such a transformation would be assisted with the blossoming of Lawhorn into a star player. Evans' best batch of talent resides in his sophomore class - Lawhorn and Watkins as known quantities with Casey and Taylor yet to turn the corner. USF will be set in the frontcourt if this group develops en masse but consistent play at the center and point guard positions for the Dons will be critical and both remain question marks at this point.
Evans signed a December 2005 contract extension -- the particulars unknown -- although what could be significant is it was offered by former USF Athletic Director Bill Hogan, not current AD Debra Gore-Mann.
Another 13-18 season will not bode well for Evans, regardless of his contract length. By the fourth year, a 'new' coach has to demonstrate on-the-court benchmark progress, plus be able to point to the building blocks in place for future stabilization. The loss of McKines doesn't bode well, indicating some sort of disconnect between the USF Athletic Department and the academic powers at the school.
We certainly don't wish it but our best guess regarding Evans' future is not a positive one.
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