By Bill Oram
| The Salt Lake Tribune
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."
Position of power
The dunk contest was the only way the Jazz would be sending a power forward to Houston this weekend. While Evans will be throwing down Saturday, two of the guys he backs up were considered fringe candidates to be selected to the Western Conference All-Star team and play in Sunday’s marquee event.
But not this year. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap had tough company.
"The power forward position in the West could be the toughest way of making an All-Star Game," Golden State forward David Lee said.
He may be right. While Lee, Griffin, Zach Randolph, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge were all named to the team, notable others were left at home — both of the Jazz’s big men (Jefferson is arguably a power forward playing out of position) among them. Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki was not selected for the first time since 2001, and Minnesota’s Kevin Love would be a lock were he not injured.
"Seems like every single night I never really have a night off," Lee said, "even guys that haven’t made the All-Star Game."
Sophomore year, not here
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin expressed surprise before the Jazz defeated Oklahoma City on Tuesday that neither second-year players Enes Kanter or Alec Burks were selected for the Rising Stars game Friday night.
"I thought they played enough minutes and well enough," Corbin said, "to be considered. I don’t know if they were considered high or low or where those things fell, but I thought they should have been considered for it.
Kanter, the Turkish center, averages 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game, while Burks averages 6.2 points per game. However, Burks’ minutes have increased to 24.9 per game in the 10 contests the Jazz have played without Hayward, and in that time is averaging 9.6 points per game.
Hall of Fame
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced finalists for its 2013 class, which will be finalized and announced in April at the Final Four in Atlanta.
Former All-Star guards Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond are among the most notable.
Also finalists are former NBA stars Bernard King, Spencer Haywood and Maurice Cheeks. Representing the coaching ranks were Hall of Fame player Tom Heinsohn, Guy Lewis, Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and North Carolina women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell.
When Lewis, the former University of Houston coach, was announced as a finalist at the mid-day press conference, Hall of Fame guard — and a Phi Slama Jama member on Lewis’s Houston teams — Clyde Drexler stood up from his seat behind the podium to applaud.
But the most memorable moment, however, belonged to former Milwaukee Bucks announcer Eddie Doucette, who will be inducted in September as the winner of the Curt Gowdy Media Award. When interviewed on stage by NBA TV announcer Rick Kamla, Doucette said, "I feel as good as Kate Upton looks."
Upton, the 20-year-old supermodel, is spending her second consecutive spring on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition.