Bishop Carroll basketball coach Lonnie Lollar has just one thing he wants everyone to know about his star guard, 6-foot-5 senior Connor Evans.
“It’s his defense,” Lollar said. “It’s how tough he is, defensively, that sets him apart.”
A few minutes later, there’s one more thing.
“He’s just tough,” Lollar said. “So tough. I think if some Division I team takes a chance on him, it’ll pay off in a big way.”
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Then a walk down the hallway, from Lollar’s classroom to Carroll’s gym … and there’s just one more thing.
“He has a chance to be the best player I’ve had at Carroll,” said Lollar, who is in his 10th season. “That’s how good I think he is.”
The point is, Evans is special. And how special he can be this season will have a lot to do with the Eagles’ trajectory after going 8-14 last year. Evans averaged 14 points as a junior, but battled injuries — a lot due to multiple growth spurts since he’s been in high school — as Carroll struggled.
This year, Carroll is off to a 3-0 start and gets its first big test at East (1-0) on Friday night. The Aces are ranked No. 2 in Class 6A and are the defending City League champions.
“In my opinion, they’re the best team in the state,” said Evans, who leads Carroll at 11points per game. “Huge game for us.”
Evans and East guard Zach Jackson, also 6-5 and with almost the same build as Evans, are friends and summer teammates at Next Level Hoops Academy.
“We’ve been playing together for a few years,” Evans said. “I think we both know it comes down to who competes harder, who plays better defense.”
The key for Carroll has been a more balanced attack. Evans, a three-year starter, has turned into a combo guard and small forward after playing exclusively point guard in the past.
In Carroll’s 59-33 win over Northwest on Tuesday, 6-5 junior Eric Scharping led the team with 18 points, Mike Wilbert added 10 points and tossed a lob to Evans for an alley-oop dunk on the first play of the game.
“We’ve got a lot more guys coming back, a lot more shooters,” Evans said. “Now, I can get the ball in the post and there are guys to kick it out to who can hit outside shots. You have to pick if you want to stay on me in the post or cheat out on them.”
“And being a point guard in the past, I’m still comfortable bringing the ball up the court when other teams try to press us or put more pressure on the ball. I think we also all understand defense can win games for us. When you can’t get the ball inside, when you’ve got somebody up in your face constantly it can get in your head.”
His teammates and Lollar haven taken notice of the changes.
“He’s a great passer, knows when to find the open guy,” Carroll guard Max Iseman said. “He has a way of getting everybody involved, of always finding the right guy to get the ball to.”
“We’re pushing the ball better, we’re rebounding better,” Lollar said. “Everybody seems to have bought in.”
Evans is a high-level NCAA Division II recruit at this point, with the most interest from Drury, which won the NCAA Division II title in 2013, Rockhurst and Newman. A big senior year could possibly propel him to the low-major Division I level.
“I think, just by the way he plays defense, a Division I school should take a look at him,” Lollar said. “He’s just going to keep getting better.”