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BRIAN WHITEHEAD, STAFF
Villa Park junior Evan Battey scored 44 points, two shy of the school record, in his fifth game with the Spartans.

Villa Park's Battey making a sizable impact

STAFF WRITER

There aren’t many spots on the basketball court from which Evan Battey hasn’t scored.

Last month, in just his fifth game at Villa Park High, Battey nearly broke the school’s scoring record. His 44 points – accrued in a 101-95 win over Victorville’s Adelanto High – were two off the mark set by former four-year letter winners Drew Viney, an erstwhile Oregon and Loyola Marymount hooper, and Corey Miller.

Villa Park’s basketball program is one of Orange County’s finest, and longtime Spartans coach Kevin Reynolds appears to have his latest prep phenom.

“In two years,” Reynolds said, “he’ll be as good as anyone who’s come through here.”

Battey is neither unfamiliar with the limelight nor uncomfortable in it.

His game is equal parts childlike wonder and veteran savvy. He can do it all.

At 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, Battey towers over reporters, coaches and classmates. His smile can be seen from across campus, and if he can be serious for a moment, he refuses to take himself too seriously. Battey is 17 going on 21, with the understanding of his limits and the work ethic to push through them.

Few high school juniors have potential so vast, a ceiling so high.

But Battey still has plenty to learn, and Reynolds has plenty more to teach.

“With his skill set,” Reynolds said, “I mean, he’s 6-foot-7 playing like a 6-foot-1 guy, and the combination the kid has already as a junior, he has a great work ethic and attitude toward work. He’ll make money someday doing this. He’s a pro somewhere.”

It’s hard to imagine now, but once upon a time, Battey didn’t care much for basketball.

His mother told him the first time he set foot on the court he cried. Battey doesn’t remember crying and sure can’t fathom being so terrified. Son to a 6-foot-3 father and a 6-foot mother, Battey outgrew his peers at an early age, the bulky third-grader standing taller than most high school freshmen.

Raised in Los Angeles, Battey played a mean center mid on the soccer field, but he belonged in the gym, where he could use his size advantageously.

Unlike many children gifted with great height, Battey wasn’t banished from handling the ball, shooting threes or any of the other fun things shorter players do without repercussion. He played all five positions enough to grasp their idiosyncrasies, all the while developing a knack for getting buckets in a variety of ways.

“I fell in love with basketball,” he said.

Battey continued growing through grade school, and joined his first Amateur Athletic Union team as a 9-year-old.

“Every day was a grind,” he said. “You go through ups and downs. But it was always better to go through them with teammates.”

Battey met Myles Franklin that first club season, and they’ve been inseparable since.

Complementary in position and similarly selfless, Battey and Franklin turned club teams into club juggernauts, their thirst for competition and friendly gamesmanship the reason they jelled so quickly and later remained friends despite attending high schools 40 miles apart.

“He’s my brother,” said Franklin, now a third-year Villa Park guard. “We’ve always had on-court chemistry.”

Said Battey: “Me and Myles eat together off the court, and we eat together on the court.”

Battey made varsity as a freshman at Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, averaging 11 points and 11 rebounds for a Unicorns team that captured the program’s third CIF Los Angeles City Section championship in six years.

The lone freshman named first-team All-Western League in 2014, Battey said playing regularly against upperclassmen from area monoliths Westchester High and Fairfax High set him on a path to greatness.

“I knew that if I could play against those guys,” he said, “I could play against anybody.”

Battey averaged 20 points and 14 rebounds as a sophomore, becoming the best player, an All-City forward, on LACES’ second consecutive Division IV titlist. This past summer, as a 16-year-old, he started alongside NCAA Division I recruits Vance Jackson (St. John Bosco High) and Brendan Bailey (Santa Margarita High) on Dream Vision AAU’s Under-17 team.

“Eye-opening,” he called his promotion.

In August, Battey’s family moved to Villa Park, where he teamed with Franklin on the 2015-16 Spartans.

What Battey remembers of his 44-point December explosion are the shots he missed.

“A couple layups here,” he says, “some free throws there, and I’d have the school record.”

This is how scorers think.

It’s not hyperbolic to call Battey unstoppable, because he can do things with the ball few others his size can. Reynolds doesn’t plant Battey on the block – where most high school big men live – and grants him the freedom to begin the break after grabbing defensive rebounds.

Battey touches the ball on every possession, Reynolds said. He is the fulcrum of Villa Park’s offense in a way his predecessors weren’t.

“You look at his body, and you see a post guy,” Reynolds said. “He’s a strong kid, but he’s a unique talent. He’s big, but he can put the ball on the floor, and he’s a willing passer. ... He’s someone you build a team around.”

The first time Reynolds saw Battey play, Battey hit all seven of his 3-point shot attempts in a sixth-period scrimmage.

No big man should be able to shoot like that, Reynolds thought.

And that’s what separates Battey from others.

Even at his size, he’s agile enough to dart around screens on the perimeter, and can stop on a dime to launch from deep. His release is quick if not textbook, and his accuracy requires attention; opposing centers must leave the paint to guard Battey or risk standing flat-footed in a torrential downpour. Teams lose valuable shot blocking in those instances, and yet have no alternatives.

Put a guard on Battey, and watch Battey use his bulk to bully him in the post.

Bring help, and watch Battey zip passes to open shooters dotting sweet spots beyond the arc.

Zones are futile, because Battey can facilitate the offense from the free-throw line.

There really is no right way to guard him.

“He’s probably a nightmare to prepare for,” Reynolds said.

Though he racks up huge rebounding numbers (he grabbed 20 boards against Adelanto), Battey tires, Reynolds said. And when he tires, he tends to stand still. Battey’s a big kid, so even if he’s a beat slow rotating into position, he’s still long enough to challenge shots at the rim. But crafty big men with his size and chops will make him work defensively.

Foul trouble is often a concern, Reynolds said. And when Battey is on the bench, Villa Park loses its muscle around the hoop.

Battey knows he must remain active on defense, and is learning the importance of exerting as much energy there as he does on the other end.

Again, he’s a junior. Some things come only with experience.

“The most important thing I can do,” Battey said, “is help my team get a win.”

Contact the writer: 714-704-3790 or bwhitehead@ocregister.com


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