El Camino Real's Evan Wardlow pulls out all the stops on defense

Wardlow, who has ties to several former NBA players, uses his length and athleticism to challenge opponents. 'It's about making him come to you and making him go where you want him to go,' he says.

Any high school basketball player who claps his hands while playing defense, daring the player he is guarding to try to get past him, deserves attention.

Evan Wardlow, a 6-foot-4 junior at Woodland Hills El Camino Real with long arms and agile feet, might be the best defender in City Section basketball.

He has found a way to make people notice him without having to score. It's all about his attitude and the way he cares about playing defense.

"When I first started playing with my dad, if you played defense, you got to play," Wardlow said.

His cousin is former NBA player Gary Grant. He receives tips from his godfather, former NBA player Bryon Russell. And he listens closely to his private coach, former NBA player Kenny Smith.

But it was his father, Theus, who first taught him about defense as a 6-year-old. He was told to press, press and press.

"It's ingrained," Theus said.

Wardlow uses his length, athleticism and desire to be a defensive stopper. Any El Camino Real opponent who can shoot is going to find himself facing the wrath of Wardlow, who could be a high school version of former NBA player Michael Cooper.

"It's not always about pressure," he said of his defensive strategy. "It's not always about jamming him and keeping him in one spot. It's about making him come to you and making him go where you want him to go."

Wardlow missed his freshman season with a fractured ankle and leg. He started on the Conquistadors' City Section Division II championship team as a sophomore. He continues to work on his shooting skills, something that will need steady improvement to convince a college recruiter to offer a scholarship.

But someone will eventually see that Wardlow has so many positive things going for him. He's only 16 and still growing. His father is 6-4 and he has cousins who are 6-6 and 6-8. He has a 3.2 grade-point average with maturity beyond his years. His parents have raised him to be a good person and seek success.

"You don't get rewards for the things you're supposed to do — get good grades, do chores around the house," Wardlow said.

His mother, Alesia, said, "He's a very considerate kid and has compassion for other people. He prays every day."

His father said, "I love his character."

He has been studying basketball since he was 3, when he figured out how to use the TV remote and would watch old basketball games late at night.

"He's a smart, intellectual, competitive winner," Coach David Rebibo said. "He loves to defend. He works his tail off. He takes pride in guarding guys. He's the ultimate team guy."

Wardlow's determination and dedication to the defensive side of basketball is contagious. It helps motivate teammates.

"It's a mentality we take at practice, if you don't play defense, you don't play," he said. "Everyone is catching on."

And it's only a matter of time before a college coach recognizes that if you want a defensive stopper on the court, Wardlow is that player.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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