COLUMN: From 55th to slam dunk for Jeremy Evans

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By Bob Watkins

This week’s “America, I love this place” exclamation is devoted to Jeremy Evans.
Three summers since Evans left Western Kentucky University as a 22-year-old with 190-something pounds stretched over 6-feet-9-inches. NBA Draft? Get serious.
Media buzz for the 2010 Draft was ga-ga for John Wall at number one and Kentucky one-and-doners. Long after David Stern’s bed-time and just before they turned out television’s stage lights at Madison Square Garden, the Utah Jazz chose, with its 55th pick, Jeremy Evans.
The arrow on the applause meter didn’t move.
Flash forward to today. Still six pounds shy of 200 and still mostly in the “who?” shadow, Evans spends his work days at 301 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah.
To say his contribution to the Jazz over two seasons is modest is to invite a who-ha or two — 3.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 78 games (three starts).
Last spring Utah’s 55th pick in 2010 won the NBA Slam Dunk contest.
Last Saturday, Evans became a restricted free agent. Guess what? Utah wants him back and offered a qualifier. As a restricted free agent Evans can sign an offer sheet with any NBA team, with Utah retaining the right to match it.
Suddenly, a skinny, modest kid from Crossett, Ark., is on the market.
Suddenly, the former Hilltopper is posted up for his next slam dunk. A multi-year contract worth more than $3 million a season.
Suddenly, 2010’s 55th NBA pick at 25 years old, is about to be a multi-millionaire.
America, I love this place.
• Anthony Davis. 18-year-old multi-millionaire. Not counting The Brow revenue and endorsements, he’ll make $4,340,520 as a first-year salary, $4,838,880 for the second, and more to come.
The Brow can be the NBA marketer’s new dream guy, will be hugely popular in New Orleans, and maybe the new face of the NBA. Bonus? The Brow arrives with a copyrighted image ready to market. Little wonder David Stern is beaming.
Conclusion: On a one-to-10 scale, Davis’s decision-making on- and off-court and uncanny good fortune (no injuries) since he chose Kentucky amount to 10-plus. Amazing.
Prediction. Davis’s number 23 will be in the Rupp Arena rafters sooner than later. And, his name will be among Kentucky’s most popular front row memories — Macy, Dampier, Nash, Tyra, Griffith, McDaniels and Haskins.
• Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Chosen No. 2 overall, Kidd-Gilchrist may be Michael Jordan’s new Scottie Pippin. Worth more than the price — $3,835,600 guaranteed first year.  
Conclusion: Having lost a father and uncle, but with mother as anchor, Kidd-Gilchrist understands loss and knows happiness is less about money and more about character.
Hope here is, Kidd-Gilchrist is a man-player to offset, if not replace, the NBA thug image.
• Terrence Jones to the Houston Rockets. Good news is $1,237,500 first season pay for being picked 18th in the first round. His coach, Kevin McHale, was an all-star power forward. The teammate who can make Jones adjust is ex-Kentucky star Patrick Patterson. Not-so-good news: Rockets 2012-13 roster includes seven forwards, four listed as power forwards.
Conclusion: Jones’ decisions have served him well. He chose Kentucky after committing to Washington, then played in two Final Fours, owns an NCAA championship ring. Time to work.
• Marquis Teague to the Chicago Bulls. Good news is he has his dream job. Bad news is he was passed over by Memphis at 25th and Indiana 26th, Teague fell to 29th place in the draft costing him $68,000 for his first NBA season. Never mind, a shoe endorsement contract should more than cover the difference.
Other bad news is Teague’s new job is cheerleader. He will compete with C.J. Watson ($3.4 million) to back up $7 million man Derrick Rose.
Conclusion: To develop his skills, mature and make himself a higher pick, Teague should have returned to Kentucky. Consolation? No more annoyance of going to class.
• Doron Lamb to the Milwaukee Bucks. Good news is, picked 42nd, in the second round, Lamb has a chance to earn a roster spot. That’s all. Bad news is:
1. “When (Lamb) plays the 2 in the NBA, he’s going to get absolutely dominated on defense by bigger guards,” one NBA analyst said. “Moreover, Lamb doesn’t have the athleticism or length to make up for his lack of size. Because of this, he doesn’t look like an NBA starter. A solid scorer coming off the bench? Yes. A good role player with a specialty? Yes. A starter? Doubtful.”
2. Lamb must find a place on a team that is contracted to pay 26-year-old shooting guard Monta Ellis $11 million next season, and $2.5 million to 22-year-old point guard Brandon Jennings. Backup point guard Beno Udrih, 29, is set to make $6.9 million.
Conclusion: Lamb should have been urged to return to Lexington. The junior-to-be could have been the SEC’s premier perimeter scorer and almost certainly improved his draftability from 42nd. Anyway it’s cut, Lamb’s college coach failed the 21-year-old badly.
• Darius Miller to New Orleans. Good news is 46th pick Miller has an opportunity, albeit no guarantee. If he makes the roster, Miller could be an off-the-bench, team-first guy and ensemble piece to compliment Anthony Davis and new point guard Austin Rivers. Bad news is, Hornets’ roster is deep in wing players.
Conclusion: No Kentucky player since Chuck Hayes, then Patrick Patterson, is as easy to cheer for as Darius Miller. His poise, savvy, humility and success as a gold medal winner and NCAA champion in four years of college, make him a man the Hornets should give every opportunity to succeed.

Kentucky All-American Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones played high school basketball at Harlan, not Hazard high school.
And so it goes.