After a weekend full of rumors, Evan Nelle finally announced last January 21, 2020 that he is leaving the San Beda Red Lions to play for the La Salle Green Archers.
It’s a homecoming for him; a return to his roots as a Grade School hooper. Yet despite the security of home, there’s still a lot of uncertainty regarding his transfer. That’s because Evan’s transfer is unique in terms of circumstance and context.
No one expected him to leave San Beda after Season 95 ended. Despite the loss to Letran, the expectation was for the Red Lions to regroup — minus Donald Tankoua and Arnaud Noah — and exact revenge on the Letran Knights next season. The Red Lions, after all, are a program that doesn’t take losses lightly. It’s either they win or they find ways to bounce back whenever they lose. Rolling over and dying was never an option for them
Evan was going to be an integral part of that regroup. Not only was his spot as the program’s premier playmaker secure, but he was also already considered as one of the best players in the NCAA, period. He made it to the Mythical Five last year with his stellar play, racking up assists and all-around lines on a daily basis. It was as if Evan had realized his potential as a modern point guard, except it happened years before the estimated time of arrival.
Given his current situation in San Beda, that brings up an unanswered question; why even transfer if he already had a good thing going in San Beda?
The official release of Evan through his statement in Instagram was “to get out of his comfort zone”. That was him acknowledging that the jump from the NCAA to the UAAP is indeed a leap to the unfamiliar and will be uncomfortable for the long time Bedan.
The level of competition in the UAAP has been rising dramatically over the years. This rise began when the likes of Greg Slaughter and Bobby Ray Parks entered the league during Season 74 and has continued with the emergence of players like Ben Mbala, Thirdy Ravena. From a coaching standpoint, Tab Baldwin has also contributed to the rise of level of play in the UAAP. The league is in tremendous shape in terms of the quality of basketball being played.
Included in this growth has been the depth in the point guard position. The UAAP has always had great playmakers, but the level of talent these past seasons has been nothing short of impressive. Next season, the UAAP will feature SJ Belangel’s all-around brilliance, Mark Nonoy’s blistering speed, and LJay Gonzales’ blend of quickness and strength. Fans and players are assured of getting quality point guard play. Yes, even players are included in this deal and that is a good thing for them.
Which all comes back to Evan and his need to get out of his comfort zone.
It’s a surprising move for Evan to suddenly leave San Beda, especially after a Finals loss. But this all makes sense for him in the long term. Not only does he go back to a familiar environment, but he’ll also be playing for a league that’s going to make him uncomfortable on a daily basis. Being taken out of your comfort zone, especially for college players, can be a good thing. Experiencing the unfamiliar is the only way players can become better.
Evan is already a great player as is. During his time with San Beda, he maintained his same style of play from High School and leveled it up with added experience and hard work in training. His range from beyond the arc is still limitless and he blends his shooting with a knack for making creative passes in the open court. It isn’t a coincidence he flourished in San Beda especially when the Red Lions got to running after a defensive stop.
That’s the thing, he flourished in fast break situations. When the going got tough and Evan needed to create in the halfcourt, he showed his inexperience at times. This was evident during the Finals when he could barely create for his team, as Letran slowed the game down and Fran Yu hounded him relentlessly in the perimeter. As good a shooter and passer Nelle is, he still lacked the physical tools and the dribbling creativity to be a force in the halfcourt. That’s really where Evan’s weakness lie; the struggle to find ways to contribute in tight settings, especially when his team needs a bucket.
Joining the UAAP, specifically La Salle, gives Evan the opportunity to learn and improve from these weaknesses of his. Aside from the level of competition, the program he’s joining in is filled with talent and a staff that’s committed to helping their players grow. Coaches Jermaine Byrd and Gian Nazario will be huge for Evan given Byrd’s history as a coach in the NBA G-League and Nazario’s experience of developing talented point guards (Aljun Melecio, Renzo Subido). Newly-appointed head coach Derrick Pumaren will be as important as he has experience handling different types of offensive systems in his history as a college and professional coach.
Most importantly, Evan will be playing with players who will force him to get out of his comfort zone. Aside from Encho Serrano, Jordan Bartlett, and Joshua David, La Salle will certainly have plenty of added recruits coming in for Season 84. Being exposed with those types of players will force Nelle to try different things on the court which he didn’t have to do before.
Maybe Coach Derrick forces Evan to run off the ball more ala Steph Curry. Or Evan can develop as a defensive guard given his length and athleticism. It’s also likely as well Evan’s creativity is pushed further since he’ll be matched up against the defensive hounds La Salle currently has.
San Beda was Evan’s comfort zone for eight years but now it’s time to go. He returns to a place that may seem familiar, but in reality, it’s actually very different. Evan had a good thing going in San Beda. But having a good thing going doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option moving forward. He’s still young. He still has so much room to grow and the only way to truly improve is to expose himself with situations that are unfamiliar. Discomfort breeds greatness. Time will tell if Evan is able to respond to his new surroundings and develop into the almighty point guard everyone expects him to be.