Houston •Stephen Curry drew a crowd two tables to Jeremy Evans’ right. On the Jazz forward’s left flank, a hoard of reporters surrounded Gerald Green, the Pacers forward who, like Evans, is best known for his dunking.
But with the world’s media on hand to talk to the best shooters, passers, dunkers and overall basketball players, Evans sat politely and waited — sometimes for lengthy, awkward periods of time — for questions.
One that came: "Music-wise, Jeremy, who are you listening to right now?"
Answer: "I try to listen to a lot of gospel."
Quirky interactions aside, on the eve of the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend, its defending champion basked in relative anonymity. Past champions have declined to return for a second go at the contest, but not Evans. However, with a stirring group of participants that includes dunking specialist James White and Green, the 2007 winner, Evans was asked if he has gotten the respect due a defending champion.
"I don’t think so," the Jazz’s lone All-Star representative said. "I feel like if I win this year, I’ll make a statement."
He would become just the fourth player to win in back-to-back years, joining an elite group that presently includes only Nate Robinson, Jason Richardson and Michael Jordan.
Rather than thinking he has an advantage of experience, Evans worries that will work against him. For the second year, the results will be based entirely on fan vote.
"Now that everybody knows I won it last year," Evans said, "they don’t want me to win it again."
A year ago, Evans won the contest in Orlando, Fla., by donning a Karl Malone jersey, then dunking over comedian Kevin Hart, who was dressed as a mailman. Earlier in the contest, he dunked two balls Gordon Hayward passed him as he leapt over his seated teammate.
He won’t have Hayward to help this year, with the third-year player at home in Indiana nursing a shoulder sprain that has sidelined him for 10 games.
But not much else is known about what Jeremy Evans has up his sleeve.
OK, fine. Nothing is known about what Evans is up to. What fun would a dunk contest be anyway if all the secrets were revealed beforehand? If Isaiah Rider drew a chart explaining the East Bay Funk Dunk before he won with it in 1993? If Blake Griffin had been spotted with measuring tape at a Kia dealership in 2011?
So when the inevitable question came, Evans smiled politely and deferred, promising only "something special."
Whether he’ll incorporate another person or props, Evans wouldn’t say, but revealed a preference for fewer gimmicks.
"I feel like it’s all a show," he said. "But that’s what you have to do to try to win it. I guess that’s what I have to do with my game also. But I loved it when it was just dunks."
He spoke of battles between Jordan and Dominique Wilkins as competitions that stuck out in his memory. And he loved Vince Carter’s jams in 2000.
The key to winning, he said, will be making his attempts on the first try, rather than requiring multiple attempts and giving away the intent, thus dulling the impact.
"The more you keep trying it the more the crowd goes the other way," he said, "so hopefully … you make it first time and everybody enjoys it."
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