When it comes to basketball skills training, Basil Evelyn is a name worth knowing

He is in his 15th year training players and getting some ready for the NBA and others ready to make it back.

SHARE When it comes to basketball skills training, Basil Evelyn is a name worth knowing
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Basil Evelyn watches from the top of the key as his clients run through shooting drills at Quest Multisport Complex on Chicago’s west side.

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Standing at the top of the key, Basil Evelyn watched intently as former Curie star Cliff Alexander charged up the lane from the baseline, caught a pass just under the free-throw line, turned and pulled up.

“You gotta get up, big man,” Evelyn said as the ball bounced off the front of the rim.

Looking at Evelyn, who is 5-5 , approach Alexander’s towering, nearly 7-foot frame, you would not assume he’s one of the elite basketball skills trainers in Chicago.

Yet, here he is in his 15th year training players and getting some ready for the NBA and others ready to make it back.

“It’s easy to train Kevin Durant,” Evelyn said. “Who can’t train Kevin Durant? Who can’t train Paul George? They’re gonna be what they’re gonna be. Get a guy like Alfonzo McKinnie to stick and make the team and get in the rotation, that’s special.”

McKinnie, whose journey to the NBA was anything but traditional, came to Evelyn after being cut by the Toronto Raptors last summer. Once the 2018 NBA season began, he signed with the Golden State Warriors. Now, McKinnie is playing in the NBA Finals against his former team.

“He called me and said, ‘I need to get in the gym with you,’ ” Evelyn said. “We worked on his jump shot, ball handling, but the biggest thing with a guy like that was his confidence.”

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Basil Evelyn stands next to longtime client Cliff Alexander before beginning their training session at Quest Multisport Complex on Chicago’s west side.

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Evelyn moved to Chicago from New York in 1999 after earning a basketball scholarship to play for Chicago State. When he graduated in 2002, he immediately got into training, but it wasn’t with any stars.

His first job in the business was at a Bally’s Total Fitness in Hyde Park, and it wasn’t until 2010 that Evelyn got his first big-name client in NBA journeyman Reggie Williams.

“He made me realize that I can do this at a high level,” Evelyn said.

In the last nine years, Evelyn has trained players from Draymond Green and Joakim Noah to E’Twaun Moore, Will Bynum and Wilson Chandler. Ahead of the 2019 NBA Draft, Evelyn has had Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, Mississippi State’s Lamar Peters, Florida State’s Mfiondu Kabengele and Southern Miss’ Tyree Griffin participating in a three-week predraft camp.

The athletes he’s built his reputation with have been the local players whose careers were established in Chicago.

“I’ve been training with Bas since I was 16,” Billy Garrett Jr. said. “Now it’s to a point where he knows my game so well, and I’ve been with him so long, that it’s just about staying sharp and adding minor things to my game. Our goal from the jump was for me to develop into an NBA player, and we’ve achieved that goal.”

Most clients coming to Evelyn have stories that mirror McKinnie’s. They are local stars whose road to the league has been unconventional but is still possible. Alexander is another example of that.

After leaving Kansas after just one season, Alexander went undrafted in the 2015 draft. After a brief stint in the NBA during the 2015-16 season, he began a career overseas.

Alexander is coming off his latest season overseas, playing for a professional team in Germany, and his dream of playing in the NBA is far from dead. Evelyn is who he trusts with getting him there.

“If you play basketball in Chicago, you know Basil,” Alexander said. “I’ve been working with him since I started my professional career. This summer, I’m playing summer league with the Clippers, and my goal is to make a good impression. I come in here because I trust him with getting me there. I’ve trusted him the last four years.”

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Basil Evelyn pauses training to discuss technique with client, Ryan Boatright at Quest Multisport Complex on Chicago’s west side.

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Skills training has become a mainstream job over the last 30 years since Tim Grover laid the groundwork for this business. Cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Miami have become destinations for training the top athletes in the NBA and beyond.

Evelyn, along with Ground Zero Training founder and assistant men’s basketball coach at DePaul Tim Anderson, are two trainers establishing Chicago as another premier training location.

“This business is all about consistency and loyalty,” Evelyn said. “You can’t be caught up with clout chasing. You have to do it because you want to see your guys get better. If you get the guys better, the respect will come.”

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