Bucs like their basketball players

Mike Evans, left, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins took their hoop skills to the college gridiron, outmuscling and outleaping cornerbacks.
Mike Evans, left, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins took their hoop skills to the college gridiron, outmuscling and outleaping cornerbacks.
Published May 18, 2014

TAMPA — His hoop dreams died during his freshman year in the NIT at Madison Square Garden. As time melted off the clock in the Washington Huskies' 68-67 overtime loss to Minnesota, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who scored two points and grabbed two rebounds in eight minutes, realized he'd better give this football thing his full attention.

"I kind of knew," said Seferian-Jenkins, who averaged 1.1 points in 17 games as a freshman. "I said, 'Yeah, I'm not going to be able to play in the NBA. That's just not going to happen. Let that dream go.' "

At 6 feet 5, Seferian-Jenkins was one of the top football recruits in the country. But like several Bucs players — including this year's first-round draft pick, Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans — basketball helped him develop skills that proved to be valuable on the football field.

After drafting three 6-5 players — Evans, Seferian-Jenkins and Purdue tackle Kevin Pamphile — general manager Jason Licht playfully dubbed them the 'Dunkaneers.' Right tackle Demar Dotson, 6 feet 9, was a basketball player at Southern Miss until he walked on as a defensive linemen for his senior year having never played football.

"My experience is that anybody can't go out there and play basketball," coach Lovie Smith said. "It takes a good athlete with quickness, size, vertical (jump). Normally, that translates to getting good production on the football field."

Some of the NFL's biggest stars played both sports in college. The list includes a number of elite pass catchers, including tight ends Tony Gonzalez (California), Antonio Gates (Kent State) and Jimmy Graham (Miami).

The success of those players has created a search for such players. The Colts recently signed Erik Swoope, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound Miami forward who has never played organized football at any level.

Former USF basketball coach Stan Heath coached Gates for one of his two seasons at Kent State. Having been offered a football scholarship by then-Michigan State coach Nick Saban, Gates failed to qualify academically and went to junior college. During Gates' recruitment, Heath said he promised Gates he could play football and join the basketball team in November.

"But when it came time for him to play football, the coach thought they were too far along and thought it might mess up the team chemistry," Heath said.

Thus, the Golden Flash football team missed out on a player who went on to become an eight-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Chargers and a NFL All-Decade team member.

Heath, who had quarterback-turned-NFL receiver Matt Jones of the Jaguars on his team at Arkansas, said Gates and Jones had similar traits that made their transition from college basketball to football seamless.

"They both had incredible size and athletic attributes," Heath said. "There were high IQ guys, and I always felt they understood a lot of things others didn't in basketball. I spent some time with Antonio after he had already made his second Pro Bowl in San Diego. He told me he thought like a basketball player out there. He said, 'If I'm matched against a bigger guy, I use my speed. If it's a smaller guy, I box him out like it was a rebound.' "

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Evans and Seferian-Jenkins developed skill sets in basketball that are strengths for them as receivers. From rebounding, they learned how to use their body to hold off opponents while competing for footballs in the air. From making cuts off screens, they have improved their ability to create the best angles to receive passes. And their one-on one moves on the perimeter are just as effective in the secondary.

"I think guys that play basketball really understand how to go up and get a ball," Seferian-Jenkins said. "Because in a rebound situation, you've got to go up and fight for a ball. Just boxing out. There are a lot of things that transfer."

Evans attended Ball High School in Galveston, Texas, where he played football and basketball. As a senior, he averaged 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists and was offered a basketball scholarship to Texas. He was also recruited by Texas A&M as a receiver and eventually signed with the Aggies.

Pamphile was primarily a basketball player at Miami Central, averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds, until he was convinced to play football his senior year. He had 12 sacks and earned a scholarship to Purdue as a defensive lineman, switching to offense after 21/2 years.

With the restrictions on contact by defensive backs on receivers, the pendulum in the NFL has swung toward the passing game. It's basketball on grass, especially near the end zone.

"We have some big, tall men out there making plays," Smith said.