It was supposed to be Phil Forte’s last season at Oklahoma State last year, but an elbow injury - that forced him to miss all but three games - gained him another year of eligibility. While it’s great to have the fifth-year senior back for one more run, we were deprived of what could have been one of the best back courts in the Big 12.
Jawun Evans and Forte played less than three games together, and Evans missed the final 10 games with a shoulder injury. Evans has not been able to participate in off-season training with the team up to this point, however, Jon Rothstein reported that he has been cleared for non-contact drills. Obviously this is huge news for Evans, Brad Underwood and his staff, and all of Oklahoma State basketball, and it highlights how the Cowboys back court can become one of the best in the Big 12 this season.
Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans (shoulder) has been cleared for non-contact drills in practice, Brad Underwood told @CBSSports.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) June 6, 2016
Forte has shown us for three seasons the type of impact he can make on the game. He’s a scorer who makes his living from behind the arc. He shot at least 38 percent from behind the arc during his sophomore and junior seasons, and has averaged at least five threes per game each season.
Jawun Evans took over as the team's go-to-guy last season as a freshman. He’s an all-around player who led the team in scoring (12.9 PPG) and assists (4.9 APG), and also finished third on the team in rebounds (4.4 RPG). It may be due to the lack of size on Oklahoma State but Evans has a knack for rebounding, and he’ll once again be called upon as Jeff Newberry, the team’s second leading rebounder, graduated.
They fit together like two puzzle pieces; Forte likes to score, Evans is always looking to make the right basketball play. Forte also wants to take as many threes as he can, while Evans likes to get into the lane or use his mid-range game rather than the long ball.
They should be able to learn to play together right away as their games are compliments of each other and Evans has a year of college basketball under his belt now. The experience and a consistent outside shooter will be godsends for the reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year.
Despite making up one of the shortest back courts in the country - Evans at 6’0" and Forte at 5’11" - head coach Brad Underwood should have a game plan that utilizes their abilities after he dealt with the same problem last season at Stephen F Austin. Other than having occasional problems matching up on defense, the biggest concern leading up to the season is their health.
As previously noted, Evans has started non-contact drills and should be ready in plenty of time before the season. There still has to be a little uncertainty around the program about the health of the two guards.
Last season was the first time Forte ever missed a game - played in 102 consecutive regular season games. Therefore, the concern probably shouldn’t be at an all-time high, although lingering injuries occur sometimes and you never know how a player’s body will hold up after the first serious injury. Granted, it wasn’t an ACL tear or something to that degree, it was still a serious elbow injury that caused him to miss 29 games, and it could end up being very detrimental for a shooter.
Also, Oklahoma State’s prized young guard already has an injury history after one season. It would be one thing if they were minor injuries that kept him out because the Cowboys had no chance of making the tournament, however, when it keeps him out for the rest of the season and into the off-season training, it’s concerning.
To put it lightly, Oklahoma State needs both of them to be healthy. The Cowboys are coming off a 12-20 season, but should be a lot closer to .500 if both are healthy all year. It will also be a good sign for the future if Evans doesn’t suffer another serious injury as he’ll be a focal point for Oklahoma State until he leaves.
Health is a big issue for any team, but it’s a substantially larger concern when you don’t have a very deep team.
The Cowboys will go as far as Evans and Forte take them. There will be pressure on other players to perform as well - like incoming freshman Cameron McGriff - but they’ll be the stars and who the offense runs through.
To put it in perspective, if Forte continued to average 13.3 points per game the rest of the season, he and Evans would have combined to average 26.2 points per game. That would have been 39.4 percent of the Cowboy’s points last season, just from two players.
It’s an understatement to say that the season relies on these two. Therefore, health is one of the biggest concerns heading into next season because they can't help if they’re in sweats on the bench. Oklahoma State has a chance to be a lot better as a team and sport one of the best back courts in the Big 12 next season. As long as both stay relatively healthy, they’ll have a chance to put together a special season together.