The Iowa men’s basketball team has three departing senior players who expected and deserved to conclude their careers with a series of games in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. While the threat of the coronavirus deprived them of these opportunities, Black Heart Gold Pants is running a series of articles showing our appreciation for the contributions these players made to Iowa basketball over the course of their seasons and their careers.
Iowa basketball had a number of “wildcards” entering this season, but none of them were quite as mysterious as Bakari Evelyn. How would the graduate transfer from Valparaiso, the first in the history of the Iowa program, handle his transition to the Big Ten, a league he hadn’t played in since his freshman year at Nebraska during the 2015-16 season? Could Evelyn fill a portion of the void left by Jordan Bohannon if/when the Hawkeye sharpshooter took a redshirt? Could Iowa count on him for any consistent scoring production, especially after being held without a point in four of his first six games with the Hawkeyes?
By season’s end, Evelyn had answered each of these questions in the affirmative. The graduate transfer proved a steadying force off the bench, and gave Iowa a heady, veteran option they could turn to when talented freshman Joe Touissant proved too erratic for Fran McCaffery’s taste. A combo guard, Evelyn proved that he could give Iowa valuable minutes at both the one and the two, and managed to solidify a permanent role in Iowa’s rotation.
Evelyn’s breakout game came against Cincinnati. With Iowa’s offense hampered by turnovers and an uncharacteristically poor scoring performance by Luka Garza, Evelyn provided an unexpected spark of the bench, contributing 15 points, seven rebounds, and four assists, while also playing excellent defense against a talented and athletic Bearcat backcourt.
This became something of a trend for Evelyn throughout the season; when it looked like Iowa was without an answer offensively, Evelyn would come off the bench to make big plays when the opposing team least expected it. Whether it was his eight point, seven assist, five rebound performance against Northwestern, his three treys against Ohio State, or his clutch free throws which iced Iowa’s road win against Minnesota, Evelyn made a habit of confounding expectations and making plays when it mattered most. He particularly shined during CJ Fredrick’s February absence, averaging ten points per game in contests in which Iowa closed games without the talented freshman.
Evelyn finally seemed to have found his offensive form, which is why it’s a shame that he won’t get a chance to show it on the biggest stage. Evelyn started 44 games during his time at Valparaiso, and certainly could have earned more minutes this season had he stayed with the Crusaders. But Evelyn came to Iowa for a chance to compete for a Big Ten title and play in the NCAA tournament, opportunities denied to him by the cancellation of post-season play. Evelyn deserves the appreciation of all Hawkeye fans for his contributions to one of the most pleasantly surprising basketball seasons in recent memory, and can hold his head high knowing that the team could not have achieved all that it did without him. Evelyn did not get a chance to don the black and gold in the Big Ten tournament, but he proved to everyone this season that Iowa and the Big Ten were exactly where he belonged. Evelyn may have been Iowa’s first graduate transfer, but given the important role he played this season, he is unlikely to be it’s last.