CORONA, California. — When I started looking at various school event schedules around the country to plan my travels for the 2022-2023 school season, I decided to kick off the season with the Battlezone, Corona, CA event. Most of it was a chance to see the big men of the West Coast fight. Dennis Evans Riverside (California) Hillcrest and Jacob McFarland Moreno Valley (California) Rancho Verde. After watching them fight Friday night, I’m glad I booked the trip.

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McFarland and Rancho Verde ended up beating Evans and Hillcrest 65-56 in a decision, but they each put up a terrific run.

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DESTRUCTION OF MACFARLAND

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Since his team won, I’ll start with McFarland. Heading to Houston, McFarland is almost seven feet tall and currently ranks second. Ranked 101st nationally by 247Sports in the 2023 class. McFarland is still fairly skinny, but he’s an elite athlete, and that athleticism was the focus during his 13 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

McFarland spent the entire night running from rim to rim. The fluidity with which he runs around the court, and his ability to catch the ball at full speed, get around defenders and fly up to the dunk ring, are striking. McFarland has big hands, gets off the floor quickly and looks like he has an instinctive rebound, especially on offense. Seven of his boards came off misses from teammates and he turned four of those attacking carom into immediate points.

McFarland has a pretty solid cast and isn’t really being asked to do much more than what he did on Friday night, so it’s hard to gauge his overall level of skill just yet. He was also helped by double teams in defense of the bigger Evans.

He will need to put on weight when he gets to Houston, but the potential for growth and growth in his game is significant. It’s not easy to find guys his size who move like him. Add to this that he has good motor skills, excellent hands, he plays instinctively and is going to play for the coach in Kelvin Sampson who is known for getting the most out of his players and we are talking about a guy worth betting on.

He didn’t get as far on offense as Jarrett Allen was at the same stage, but has a lot in common with the former five-star and current Cleveland Cavalier.

EVANS LAYOUT

Now it’s time to talk about Dennis Evans. He is currently ranked 27th on 247Sports, he lives up to his advertised 7ft 1 and he keeps getting better every time I see him play and did a lot of really good things during 23 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.

From the start, he came out aggressive on offense, burying an 18-footer on the left side of the court. He immediately took control of the defensive end of the court. If he didn’t block punches, he would remake and hit a few more. On the block, he had a few frustrating early moments where he worked to figure out what double commands were being sent to meet him and was at times too passive, making counter moves or just rushing aggressively towards the rim. He also dropped the ball below the waist several times, resulting in turnovers.

On the other hand, once he sorted out the defense and got things going, Evans became a force. Finding his way in the first half, he took over in the second. He fired a false shot and then made a monster dunk after knocking McFarland off his feet. A few possessions later, he entered the 22-foot ball from behind in the transition and shot it confidently into goal. With each bucket and dunk, he showed more aggression and confidence. He has also shown great patience at times and seems to be good at finding cutters and open teammates when he is on a double team. He’s also an outstanding free-kick shooter (8-8 per night), which is a lot for a young player.

Evans is far from a finished product. He must continue to work on his counterattacks, overall quickness and consistently aggressive demeanor. However, the amount he has improved over the past year is significant and he continues to add to his game every time. Keep in mind that Evans won’t be 18 until he arrives on the Minnesota campus, so he’s a very young graduate. Ben Johnson and the Gophers have a really unique perspective, and a kid that I believe should be the focus for voting at the McDonald’s All-American game.