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Las Vegas • Take away the near-empty stands and anonymous uniforms, and it appeared that nothing had changed for Jazz forward Jeremy Evans.
Utah's human pogo stick effortlessly bounced off the hardwood, gliding through the air and driving home putback dunks. He played dead at the top of the key, serving as a temporary decoy before breaking free and sprinting toward the rim for one of his trademark alley-oop slams. There were even touch passes that saw Evans briefly catch the ball with his fingertips, then swing it outward as he set up an open teammate on the perimeter.
Evans was nearly in regular-season form. As if the NBA lockout was a bad dream, and his two-week participation in the Impact Basketball League (IBL) was an ill-founded rumor instead of a near necessity. But there was Evans on Wednesday afternoon, running the court with professionals such as Portland/ex-Jazz guard Wesley Matthews.
Evans scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds during an afternoon game, playing a key role in his team's messy 118-104 victory. He entered the contest leading the IBL in blocks and ranking second in rebounds. He walked off the hardwood covered in sweat, earning praise from IBL founder and president Joe Abunassar and a congratulatory punch in the arm by Matthews.
"It's just to get out here and play with the other players," Evans said. "Just to get a run in and stay in shape [during the lockout]."
Evans has rested little during the league's 11-week work stoppage, splitting time between Kentucky and Las Vegas. While his mother keeps an eye on his belongings, Evans roams. He has tentative plans to soon join Jazzmen Al Jefferson and Devin Harris for a training session in Santa Barbara. And he will likely be in the IBL through at least Sept. 22.
"I'm always active," Evans said. "I think that just helps my game by running around."
The forward has been so busy, in fact, that he's barely kept in touch with Jazz teammate and close friend Gordon Hayward, who has publicly encouraged Evans to join him for workouts in Indianapolis. The brief silence ended Tuesday. Evans was on the receiving end of a nasty slam dunk during an IBL game, and a text from Hayward soon showed up on his phone.
"I told him, 'I had to get posterized for you to text me?' " Evans said.
Only about 75 fans watched Evans' contest Wednesday, and overall IBL attendance has been minimal, despite the lure of NBA stars such as Washington's John Wall and Rashard Lewis. Evans said the morning training sessions and afternoon games are ideal, though, since the league's doors are locked. He's able to add muscle weight and work on his mid-range game after waking up, then test his mettle against some of the NBA's premier young athletes during a period when pro coaches are barred from contacting players.
"With the fan thing, it's always about who's on the court and who's playing," Evans said. "Because sometimes the fans will be there and sometimes they won't."
Abunassar said the IBL is set up for players who want to push their bodies while the NBA is on pause. He conceded, though, that promotion will increase next week as the IBL attempts to take advantage of its momentary spotlight.
"We do this all summer with guys. … We just expanded it and have some new faces in the building," Abunassar said. "The guys are training hard in the morning and playing hard in the afternoon. I think everything's been great."
Similar praise was shined upon Evans. Abunassar was barely familiar with the Jazz forward before the IBL began. Three days later, Evans' reach, wingspan and ability to soar through the air have made a major impression.
"His athleticism is something you don't see," Abunassar said. "I've been doing this for 15 years. It's very unique."
Impact Basketball League
When • Sept. 12-23
Where • Las Vegas
Who • NBA players featuring the Jazz's Jeremy Evans, Washington's John Wall and Rashard Lewis, Portland's Wesley Matthews and Memphis' Tony Allen
Why • Athletes are training and playing exhibition games at the Impact facility during the NBA lockout