Culver boys basketball preview: Evans trying to instill confidence with Cavaliers
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Culver assistant boys basketball coach Adam Llovet called his lifelong friend Kyle Evans and joked that he should apply for the vacant head coaching job at the school.
“You should apply, and I’ll coach with you,” Llovet said.
“You know what, I think I might,” Evans replied.
“Wait, are you serious?” Llovet wondered.
Yes, he was. Evans, who played on Argos sectional championship teams in 2004 and 2005 before graduating from West Central and later playing football at Manchester University, knew Culver principal Brett Berndt well before the job came open.
Before Berndt got into administration, he was the boys basketball coach at Culver from 2000-08 and coached against Evans the player multiple times.
Evans, the former coach at West Central, Caston and North Judson, was hired as the new Culver coach on June 15.
“It kind of just fell open,” Evans said. “It’s obviously an area I’m super familiar with. … I knew the administration really well, and that was kind of a big draw for me. I’ve known coach Berndt since I was in school myself. And then I knew of coach (Culver athletic director Mike) Zehner and got to know them even better through the interview process. It just felt perfect. It really did.”
His first Culver team takes the court Wednesday when the Cavaliers travel to Rochester.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the first meeting as a team occurred virtually across multiple computer screens. A couple weeks later, they got together for weightlifting and some gym time.
Then came trying to convince some athletes that maybe had never played basketball. He also tried to convince some athletes that had played but had stopped to start playing again. He went to the weight room to meet some of the school’s male athletes and said that was effective in getting kids to come out.
Evans said he has focused on simple fundamentals that are often overlooked, like catching the ball, landing on two feet, pivoting and footwork.
“If you walked into one of our practices and asked any of our guys what’s the most underrated, overlooked skill on the offensive end, they’ll all tell you catching the basketball,” Evans said. “Because we’ve really, really hammered that.”
Owen Valiquet and Donavan Ziaja, Culver’s top two scorers last year, graduated. Hunter Manns, another starting guard, also graduated.
The leading returning scorer is junior Jalen King.
“Where he surprised me a little bit is his explosiveness and athleticism,” Evans said. “I would say he’s a little bit more fit and lean than he was last year. I can’t say if he’s cut weight or not, but he certainly looks like he has leaned out a little bit while getting stronger, and that’s just made him more explosive and quicker. He’s really developed his body well. … He’s just a guy that really bought into what we’re trying to teach and what we’re trying to do, so that made him stand out even more.”
King is one of five juniors on the varsity roster along with Marquez Anderson, Cameron Minix, Dalton Powell and Auston Zehner.
The three seniors are Owen Clingler, Josh Havron and Braxton Conley.
With Valiquet, Ziaja and Manns all graduating, Clingler will take over at point guard. Evans also sees him being a top scorer along with King.
“They’re understanding too that we’ve got some big guys that can play in the post that will also help with some scoring, but Owen’s main role for us will be at the point guard spot,” Evans said.
Evans said he hopes to have two post players always in the game. That means teaching back-to-the-basket skills to multiple players who are not as used to it. Conley, Zehner, Anderson and Powell are all being worked at the post spots.
The 6-3 Conley is as “scrappy as it gets” and has emerged as a leader.
“He doesn’t look nearly as strong as what he is,” Evans said. “He’s pretty physical down in the post. A great rebounder and a very good passer out of the post. I just feel like he’s very comfortable in that role. I feel like he likes that role where he’s making passes out of the post, he’s offensive rebounding, he’s directing guys where to get to. So he’s a vocal leader. He’s a physical leader. He’ll play a ton of minutes this year.”
Evans said Zehner, who started in Culver’s loss to Argos in the sectional quarterfinals this year, could also be used much more in the low post this year.
Marquez Anderson is another junior who could compete for playing time in the post.
“He’s 6-2ish and gotten a lot of muscle weight on him,” Evans said. “He’s someone right now that’s competing for a starting spot on Wednesday. … He loves to hit. He does a great job screening and rebounding. He’s another one that catches it in the post and makes pretty good decisions out of the post. But then again, that’s all new for those guys. They weren’t really looked upon to play back to the basket and make plays out of the post.”
Powell is undersized but whom Evans calls a “high IQ guy.”
Havron is someone that Evans describes as a “role guy.”
Minix is back out for basketball after choosing not to play last year. Emiliano Ortiz is the only sophomore listed on the varsity roster, and he is competing for a starting spot at guard.
“With some of those guys that came out or emerged that maybe haven’t played before, our varsity is all juniors and seniors, which allows us to utilize our freshmen and sophomores to develop on the JV, which overall that’s what you want to do in your program,” Evans said.
While Evans’ father Chuck, who is currently the principal at Caston, is a former basketball coach, Evans also counts Southwood coach John Burrus as a coaching mentor. Burrus is known for an aggressive 2-3 zone defense that Evans said is “near and dear to my heart.”
That will be their predominant defense.
“We’ll play some multiple defenses well,” Evans said. “We played a really solid man-to-man quarter on the scrimmage, so we’ll utilize both. We’ve got some presses to mix in as well.”
Evans takes over a team that went 1-22 last season. One of those 22 losses was a 74-28 loss to the North Judson team that Evans coached on Jan. 4.
So not only is Evans coaching fundamentals, but he said he is also coaching confidence.
“Right now, the mental side of it was probably harder or more important at this point than the fundamental skills that we’re hammering out,” Evans said. “We’re really trying to celebrate the small things and letting them know that we appreciate when we see them do the small things right. And that’s helping build their confidence as well.
“And then another thing we talk about all the time is that when you are part of a rebuild, you have to be mentally tough through it. And part of being mentally tough is understanding that it is a process and success does not happen overnight. And we tell them if you think success happens overnight and we’re going to start the year 10-0 just because we changed the system and changed what we’re doing, you’re probably not very mentally strong or aware of the real situation that we’re in. But they’ve come a long, long way, and we’re certainly seeing successes. We went to our scrimmage Thursday and came out and won the first quarter, and that was a huge success for our guys. It was like a wow-we-did-that sort of thing. It was really nice to see that success for our guys. … But confidence is one of the biggest things we’re hitting this year.”
Llovet returns as varsity assistant. Adam Neace will be the JV coach. A.J. Neace, Adam’s brother, will be the eighth grade coach and might also spend some time on the varsity bench during games.
Culver will play five nonconference games before their Hoosier North opener at home against Knox on Dec. 12. Culver has not won a conference game since a 42-33 win over Triton on Jan. 12, 2018.
The new addition to Culver’s schedule is Northfield. Culver will travel there on Feb. 23. Northfield replaces Morgan Township on the schedule.
Culver plays all five sectional opponents during the regular season. The first of those games is Tuesday at home against West Central.