September 30, 2013

30 in 30: Evans Getting Used to Wearing Syracuse's 22

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Syracuse freshman Jordan Evans has taken over the legacy of wearing jersey No. 22 for the Orange from JoJo Marasco.
© Rich Barnes

Syracuse freshman Jordan Evans was raised in upstate New York and, like many young lacrosse fans from the area, attended Orange men's lacrosse home games at the Carrier Dome. He sat in those bleachers under the filtered white light of the dome as early as first grade, when he started playing the sport.

At the time, an attack sensation named Mikey Powell wore Syracuse's heralded jersey No. 22. Evans remembers that, just as he does midfielder Dan Hardy and attackman Cody Jamieson donning the double deuces. They carried on the Syracuse legacy started in 1987 by Gary Gait. But Evans watched those guys more from afar, as a fan.

The last two years, he eyed JoJo Marasco with a different perspective. Like the quick but slight Evans (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), Marasco could play both attack and midfield. And Evans knew he would be handed No. 22 on arrival in Syracuse this fall, after Marasco graduated.

The Orange coaching staff recruited Evans with the promise of taking that honor, hoping to show what they thought of him as a high schooler at Jamesville-Dewitt (N.Y.). Head coach John Desko and company were certainly right. Evans finished his high school career with 396 points on 205 goals and 191 assists. He was the Nike/US Lacrosse National Player of the Year as a senior.

For the last three weeks in practice and on Sunday in scrimmage action at Cortland, N.Y., Evans has run around with his new number, and perhaps the weight of it, in the midfield; just like Marasco, an eventual Tewaaraton Award finalist, did at this time last year.

"There's definitely pressure that comes with that number," Evans said after practice last Thursday. "It was expected, but all the guys on our team are very supportive. They all want me to do well. Their support has taken a little bit of the pressure off.

"People are going to look at me differently because of the number, but it's just a number. I hope to live up to the previous players that have worn it, but I'm really just looking to make an impact as soon as possible and help wherever I can."

With what Syracuse looks like on paper this fall -- eight of its top 10 point scorers returning, including potent attackmen Kevin Rice (23 goals, 32 assists in 2013), Dylan Donahue (27 goals, 14 assists), Derek Maltz (32 goals, seven assists) and Billy Ward (11 goals, five assists), former North Carolina transfer Nicky Galasso working his way back from injury, and some openings to fill in the midfield -- it's easy to imagine Evans stepping into Marasco's slot in the lineup.

Desko acknowledges the Orange are pretty much set on attack, and, if as expected, two-time NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year Randy Staats (Onondaga Community College) gets to campus in the spring, the unit will be bolstered even more. It's unlikely Evans will play attack as a freshman.

There is a good chance at midfield. Starting midfielder Scott Loy (20 goals, four assists) returns, as do second-line offensive middies Henry Schoonmaker (18 goals, five assists) and Hakeem Lecky (eight goals, one assist), but there are openings at-large in the group.

"If someone steps ahead of the crowd from that second group, or even if we want to keep things strong, keep one or two of the guys coming back on the second group, and two on the first group and swing in whoever, if an Evans steps up," Desko said. "We got some strong middies. Hayes McGinley and J.T. Forkin as freshmen are doing a very nice job. We can bump attackmen over into the midfield. You can look up and see Galasso or Ward there."

There's no shortage of talent, certainly. That's helping Evans' college transition as he gets up to speed learning Syracuse's offensive sets, correct spacing, and how to read and react to college-level slides, he said.

"I'm just trying to adjust to the speed of the game," Evans said. "It's a lot faster than high school, and I'm just trying to learn from some of the leaders from last year's team. They had a great team last year and all of the guys that are back are teaching me, along with the coaches, so I can learn faster and help as quickly as possible.

He's already shown flashes. Evans scored Syracuse's first goal in a scrimmage Sunday against the Israel national team. The Orange went on to win 11-4, and Evans played extensively. Syracuse beat the Iroquois 14-11 in another scrimmage Sunday.

"He's obviously talented and he's got that game sense and dodging ability. He's got good awareness of other people around him," Desko said. "It's just a matter of when he gets comfortable. The thing he's got going for him is he's got a high lacrosse IQ, which usually makes a difference. With the great defenses that we face today, you have to have a good understanding of our offense and the game to get out there a little quicker."

Evans and Syracuse's 15 other true freshmen got out on the practice field Sept. 16 along with redshirts and walk-ons, a week before the rest of the team. The Orange like to work with these uninitiated groups before allowing them share the field at the same time as returnees, as to not waste time stopping practice to explain and teach unfamiliar concepts to newbies. The staff also evaluated the freshmen last week with an eye on potential redshirts. The Orange's event over the weekend at Cortland didn't count toward its number of NCAA contests, but did for eligibility purposes.

Desko wanted to be careful with which freshmen played, as to not lose redshirt potential. But there was no doubt Evans was stepping on the field. He wasn't recruited to wear No. 22 on the sideline.

"I hope to fill in JoJo's shoes as best as I can," Evans said, when asked directly about the possibility (it wasn't as if he broached the subject on his own). "Obviously, as a freshman, I'm not yet at the caliber he was as a senior. But if I can learn fast and make an impact quicker, hopefully being able to play midfield and attack will benefit our team and our chances."

As for that number?

"He's pretty rational and very team-oriented," Desko said of Syracuse's newest 22. "With his demeanor, he can handle wearing that jersey and those types of challenges. I think he's up to it."

Faceoffs a big focus

Ask Desko about Syracuse's faceoff situation, and he'll reflect back on the performance of Duke's Brendan Fowler in last May's national title game as if it populates his nightmares regularly.

"When that kid pulled it out himself and got it to the right people, there's not a heck of a lot that you can do if you can't at least get 40 or 50 percent of those," Desko said. "We were up 5-0 and 6-1 and in the second and third quarter we're 1-for-15."

That was just one game, but Syracuse had a season-long issue winning faceoffs at only 42 percent. It ranked 55th out of 63 Division I men's lacrosse teams.

So, for every two-hour practice Syracuse has had this fall, the faceoff guys have spent more time -- 90 minutes -- focusing specifically on their technique and going against each other. It's mostly the same personnel, though, as last year: Chris Daddio (115-for-254; 45 percent) and Cal Paduda (47-for-111; 42 percent), although Desko said Syracuse is also taking a good look at walk-on Austin Wentworth. Wentworth took faceoffs Sunday while Daddio and Paduda, Syracuse's primary specialists last year, didn't play for undisclosed reasons.

Freshman Joe DeMarco, who won 82 percent of faceoffs he took at Massapequa (N.Y.), hasn't played this fall because of a broken thumb.

"Certainly we're working very hard at it," Desko said.

Galasso getting back up to speed

It's interesting to think about Nicky Galasso's role with the Orange. He transferred to Syracuse last fall with the hopes of being a big playmaker for the Orange last spring, but went down with a foot injury that needed surgery, missed the entire season and redshirted. Syracuse won the Big East title, earned an NCAA tournament No. 1 overall seed and made the national title game without him.

Galasso is working his way back into the fold with Syracuse this fall. He started on attack against the Iroquois on Sunday, notching two assists, while Derek Maltz was out because of injury.

"He's doing pretty good," Desko said of Galasso. "He still needs to get in a little better shape, but he's pretty good for where he is, coming off his injury last year and what he could do this summer. We're waiting for him to get comfortable in the offense. He's doing a good job out there. We're happy with him."

If healthy, expect Galasso, who finished his high school career at West Islip (N.Y.) with a Long Island-record 500 career points, to play a big role.

"When he was with us last year, he was one of, if not our best attackman certainly going to the goal," Desko said. "Now we're waiting for that to come back and get him comfortable in the offense and working with the other guys."

In another twist, part of Galasso's transfer agreement with North Carolina included the stipulation that he couldn't transfer to another ACC team or a team that was on the Tar Heels' 2013 schedule without having to sit out a year. Well, one year later, Syracuse fits both criteria that the Tar Heels were trying to avoid. Syracuse will play its first ACC schedule in 2014 and face North Carolina on April 12.

Odds and ends

Brandon Mullins, the former Texas high school football star who chose to play lacrosse at Syracuse, is coming back from season-ending right knee injuries that required surgery. He suffered the injuries in the fourth quarter of the Orange's overtime win against Virginia last March, just as it looked like the sophomore defenseman would put his name on the national lacrosse map. He'll have another chance this season, although he didn't play Sunday. "The young man works so hard," Desko said. "We expected him to come back early from his surgery and he's ahead of the game. It's because of his work ethic. He's a run through the wall kind of guy." In high school, Mullins chose to play lacrosse in college despite drawing interest to play football from schools such as Oklahoma, Texas, Notre Dame and Boise State. Mullins was the Associated Press' Texas 5A Player of the Year as a senior, but by then he had already committed to lacrosse at Syracuse. ... The Orange will continue to practice but does not have any other scrimmages scheduled until an alumni game Oct. 12 at the Carrier Dome.

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