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The last visit to Greensboro, N.C., did not go well for Jontel Evans and the Cavaliers.
MATT RILEY | Virginia
Virginia coach Tony Bennett embraces senior guard Jontel Evans after the Cavaliers' final home game this season.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Jontel Evans is the first college basketball player to spend four seasons with Tony Bennett as his head coach, and soon Bennett will be reminded of that every day.
Little time had elapsed after Virginia’s 61-58 overtime victory over Maryland before a postgame photo began to circulate of Evans with his head buried in Bennett’s shoulder.
“He was all tears and emotion,” said Bennett, who earlier had been part of a Senior Night observance involving Evans and walk-on Doug Browman, who has been with the program for three years.
“He’s the first person I’ve coached from start to finish because I’ve only been at one place, Virginia, for four years. We share that bond and, obviously, no one can take that away.”
Bennett has several framed photos in his John Paul Jones Arena office, and his first impulse was to add the Evans photo to that collection, but he wasn’t sure how Evans would feel about having his sensitive side exposed.
“I’m no crybaby,” said Evans, who was a college prospect as a running back at Bethel High School in Hampton. “It just meant a lot to me for my team to battle back and for that to be my last game on that court in front of those fans.”
Conceivably, the Cavaliers could return to JPJ for a home game in the National Invitation Tournament, a fate fourth-seeded Virginia (21-10) will be trying to avoid when it faces fifth-seeded North Carolina State (23-9) in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament today at Greensboro Coliseum.
Virginia is making its first trip to Greensboro since the 2011 conference tournament, when Miami defeated the Cavaliers 69-62 in overtime in the first round.
“Last time I was here, it left a bad taste in my mouth,” Evans said. “We gave away — what was it? — 10 points in 50 seconds.”
Miami intercepted an Evans inbounds pass during its comeback but there was no shortage of culprits in the Cavaliers’ demise that day.
Evans has been an easy target throughout his career, most recently after a 53-51 loss at Florida State on March 7.
People were joining Twitter just so they could start following Evans and say “disrespectful things,” he said.
Bennett was quick to take a stand in postgame comments to the team.
“Coach Bennett said, ‘For every 10 people who hate you, there’s a hundred people who love you,’ ” Evans said. “It meant a lot for coach to have my back.”
Bennett doesn’t profess to be an authority on social media.
“It’s a different time,” he said. “It’s unfamiliar to me. With Twitter, everybody has access to these guys, [but] in a way this is a good for the guys to be intoxicated with the praise after the Duke game and then to get some of the jabs from the losses.
“If you’re going to put your worth or identity in what others are saying, it’s going to be tough. I said, ‘How many of you, watching a game, have made some critical comments?’ They all nodded. So, I told them, ‘Don’t get shook up.’ ”
Evans’ rock has been his mother, Trina, with whom he speaks daily. Since arriving at UVa, he also has become close to China Crosby, the star-crossed point guard for the UVa women’s team, whom he has been dating for about 18 months.
“We talk about basketball all the time,” he said. “If I’m not doing something right, she’s the first one to say, ‘Why are you not doing this?’ Sometimes, I think she’s harder on me than [my] coaches.”
When Evans underwent surgery Oct. 2 for a broken foot, Crosby provided some perspective. Also a senior, she twice had seasons cut short by a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Like Evans, Crosby has been more of a distributor than a scorer, “but, trust me, she can shoot,” he said. “She’s a better shooter than I am.”
Despite the late start to his 2012-13 season, Evans has recorded his third straight season with 100 assists or more and has 400 assists for his career — one behind Cory Alexander, who stands eighth on UVa’s all-time list.
On the other hand, he has averaged 5.0 points in a 116-game career that has included 96 starts.
“I was always a guy who got to the basket, starting at the age of 9,” he said. “It just so happened, since I got to college, my shot has really struggled.”
Virginia had gone more than 10 years without an ACC All-Defensive Team selection before Evans was voted to that unit last year. He was a repeat selection this year and nothing could be more meaningful to his defensive-minded coach.
All that’s left is the positioning of the Bennett-Evans photo.
“He said, ‘Are you going to put that in your office, coach?’ ” Bennett said. “I said, ‘Jontel, you’ve seen me at my worst and seen me, hopefully, at my best. I’ve seen you in your down times. I’ve seen you in up times and that’s what makes this special.
“It will be somewhere, whether it’s my home or office, that’s for sure.”
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