UK Men's Basketball

Hawkins, Willis at crossroads? Overseas basketball an option to ponder

Former UK player Heshimu Evans made the “Y” as the University of Kentucky played the University of Tennessee in Rupp Arena last February.
Former UK player Heshimu Evans made the “Y” as the University of Kentucky played the University of Tennessee in Rupp Arena last February. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Former Kentucky players like Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis probably face what ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla considers an annual basketball dilemma.

“Do I play in the D League, making $25,000 for six months?” Fraschilla said of the NBA’s development league now known as the G League. “Or do I check my ego at the door, quite frankly, and go overseas and start a career over there where the starting salary could be $200,000? But, if you play well enough, you can work it up to seven figures.

“And,” he added, “you get to see the world. And it’s good basketball.”

More than a quarter of the players in the NBA last season were foreign born, Fraschilla said. As for making a living, former Kansas player Keith Langford has an annual salary of $2.3 million — tax free, Fraschilla said — playing in Russia.

Heshimu Evans is among the many former UK players who’ve continued playing basketball in foreign countries. His post-college playing career included stops in France, Japan, Spain and Angola, plus, most significantly, two multi-year stints in Portugal.

Evans now speaks Portuguese, and holds dual citizenship. He played on Portugal’s national team.

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Heshimu Evans has been hired as an assistant coach for the Sayre boys’ basketball team. Photo submitted

“The best thing is my son started traveling to Europe at 3 years old,” Evans said. “To me, that was really important because he got a chance to experience a different culture and different food.”

Evans credits his experience with an AAU team, the New York City Gauchos, for easing the transition to playing in a foreign country. He recalled playing for the Gauchos in France, Germany, Russia and the Bahamas.

“So I was already prepared for that, thank God,” he said of the change of cultures.

Fraschilla, who is ESPN’s expert on foreign basketball, was Evans’ first college coach. Before Evans’ sophomore season at Manhattan, Fraschilla took the team on a tour of Spain.

Fraschilla recalled the team taking a day on a beach. “These Spanish people thought Heshimu was Michael Jordan …,” Fraschilla said.

It wasn’t the last time the basketball paths of Evans and Jordan crossed.

“He wound up playing in Portugal most of his career,” Fraschilla said of Evans. “He was considered the Michael Jordan of Portugal.”

There is a downside to having a playing career in a foreign country.

“You can make fabulous money overseas,” Fraschilla said, “but you’re out of sight, out of mind.”

Evans, who transferred to Kentucky when Fraschilla left to become coach at St. John’s, played on UK’s 1998 national championship team. He then played in foreign countries from 1999 through 2013. Upon retirement, he wanted to become a coach and worked on the staff of former UK teammate Steve Masiello at Manhattan.

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Heshimu Evans helped cut down a net after Kentucky defeated Utah to win the national championship in 1998. Janet Worne LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Now, Evans is back in Lexington, where he’s been hired as an assistant coach for Sayre’s boys’ team. He also trains youth (heshimuhoopskills.com), a service he hopes to expand statewide.

“It would have been far easier to crack into coaching at (age) 23,” Fraschilla said, “as opposed to now. He doesn’t have quite the contacts that he would have.”

But Evans has a wealth of memories.

Fraschilla saw Hawkins, Willis and before that Andrew and Aaron Harrison at this basketball crossroads. “You have to have a realistic expectation of where your career can go,” the ESPN analyst said.

Fraschilla said Hawkins and Willis were “on the cusp of potentially making a (NBA) team.”

Playing overseas, Willis could “fit in as a shooting big guy, and end up having a nice career,” Fraschilla said. “If you want to leave the comforts of home.”

Olympic sport?

When the International Olympic Committee announced this year that it would add three-on-three basketball as a sport, Amy Trask had an immediate response.

“I tweeted them, ‘You’re welcome,’” she said last week.

Trask is the CEO of the Big3 League, which is playing its inaugural season this summer and will make a stop in Rupp Arena on Aug. 6. She suggested the Big3 League inspired the move to add three-on-three basketball to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“We’re in almost three dozen countries, with a list of people waiting to sign on,” Trask said of the reach of Big3 game telecasts. “This is all connected. … This is an international sport beloved all around the world.”

Jeff Kwatinetz, one of the founders of the Big3 League, suggested that three-on-three is the most widespread form of basketball.

“The most played sport in the world,” he said. “That’s undeniable. And it’s accessible everywhere.”

The key demographic of young people play and watch three-on-three, he said. Look for future Big3 players to participate in the Olympics, he said.

Brotherly love?

Again and again, the leaders of the Big3 League make the point that the games are competitive. The league is not another curtain call for former players or basketball’s version of a rock band’s farewell tour.

Rapper Ice Cube, one of the Big3 founders, made that point when talking about the games in Philadelphia this weekend. This competitiveness extends to former Sixers stars Julius Erving and Allen Iverson, both of whom are Big3 coaches. Iverson also plays.

“I don’t know how much brotherly love there’s going to be in the battle of two Philadelphia icons,” Ice Cube said.

While acknowledging that merely seeing Erving and Iverson on the court again can be a thrill, the Big3 offers competitive basketball, Ice Cube said.

“Seeing them coming to a Sixers game and waving is different from seeing them in competition again,” he said.

Greatest Sixer

Allen Iverson and Julius Erving as part of the Big3 games in Philadelphia this weekend inspired a question: Who did Ice Cube consider the greatest 76er of all time?

“I think the greatest player for the Sixers has got to be Dr. J,” he said of Erving. “Only because he was able to win championships in a lot of different leagues. . . . I think he played on better teams than Allen Iverson.”

What about Wilt Chamberlain? He led the Sixers to the 1967 NBA title and also played on the Lakers’ team that won the championship in 1972.

As a member of the Philadelphia Warriors (an earlier incarnation of the Golden State Warriors), Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points in the 1961-62 season. In four seasons with the Sixers, he averaged 30.1 points and 11.4 rebounds.

‘Godfather style’

The promoters of the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather fight reached an agreement last week with the Big3 to move its championship game in Las Vegas from the T-Mobile Arena to the MGM Grand to make room for the boxing match. Both events are Aug. 26.

A reporter asked one of the Big3 co-founders, rapper Ice Cube, if someone leaned on the league “godfather style,” in order to get the game moved.

“Nobody leaned on us godfather style,” Ice Cube said with a chuckle. “Our CEO (Amy Trask) worked for Al Davis for 17 years. We all know no one leans on Al Davis godfather style.”

UK takes over

The SEC Network will devote its programming Monday to Kentucky sports. It’s part of a day-by-day “takeover” of the network by member schools.

The programming devoted to UK sports includes Malik Monk’s 47-point starburst against North Carolina in Las Vegas (midnight to 1:30 a.m.), De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point take-that of Lonzo Ball in the NCAA Tournament (5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m.) and the football victory at Louisville in November (8 to 10 p.m.).

UK athletics officials picked the 24 hours of programming. Deputy A.D. DeWayne Peevy, Associate A.D. for Marketing and Promotion Nathan Schwake and Director of Strategic Communications Guy Ramsey led the way. Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart had final say.

Good genes

A call to wish Hall of Famer Frank Ramsey a happy 86th birthday on Thursday found him at work as president of the Dixon (Ky.) Bank.

“I don’t know what the hell I’d do if I wasn’t working,” Ramsey said. “When you’re my age, you look forward to going to work.”

Ramsey played for UK’s 1951 national championship team and the only unbeaten team in program history (1953-54). He cited good genes as a reason for his longevity. His mother lived until the age of 101, he said. Except for his father, who died at 72, other relatives lived into their 80s and 90s.

“I hope I have it in my genes,” he said, “but, hey, I don’t make any long-range plans.”

‘Shooting for 100’

Bill Hanna, a longtime editor at the Lexington Leader and then the Herald-Leader, turns 95 on Thursday.

“Shooting for 100,” he wrote in an email, “but will settle for 96.”

Hanna, also a longtime UK fan, credited his interest in sports, “especially basketball, baseball and tennis,” for his longevity.

“I was always active,” he said in a follow-up phone conversation. “My interest carried over to activity.”

Hanna said he played tennis until he was almost 80.

Happy birthday

To Antwain Barbour. He turns 35 on Monday. … To Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes. He turns 63 on Monday. … To CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist. He turns 77 on Monday. … To Bam Adebayo. He turns 20 on Tuesday. … To Derek Anderson. He turns 43 on Tuesday. … To John Pelphrey. He turns 49 on Tuesday.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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