Top uncommitted recruit Evans ready to make college choice
He has mulled over the decision for the better part of a year, maybe even longer. He has considered everything -- playing time and system, coach and roster spots. You name it, Tyreke Evans has been over it again and again.
But on the eve of his college announcement, the top uncommitted high school basketball player in the nation realized he forgot something.
"I have no idea how I'm going to reveal it," he said. "I guess I'm going to have to go buy a hat or something."
So there it is. You want the inside skinny on Evans' decision before he announces it at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday (ESPNEWS, ESPNU)? Stalk every Dick's Sporting Goods and Lids in and around Philadelphia. Look for a guy waffling between Texas, Memphis and Villanova hats and you'll get your answer.
We probably shouldn't joke. In fact, Dick's and Lids may want to beef up the security. Not since Diane spent an entire "Cheers" season waffling between Sam and Frasier has a decision been greeted with such anticipation. Evans is considered the can't-miss player who will turn whatever lucky suitor wins his hand into an instant national champion contender.
He has whittled his list down to the lucky three and promises he will not pull a Terrelle Pryor. (The top quarterback recruit sat down in front of the ESPN cameras two months ago and announced nothing. He didn't select Ohio State until three weeks later.)
Odds-on favorite right now would appear to be Memphis. Though Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts have yet to announce their futures, it's all but a foregone conclusion that the national championship game was their collegiate swan song. Their departure would leave two vacancies at the guard spot for Evans to fill.
"I'm leaning one way; I'm pretty sure I know what it's going to be," Evans said cryptically. "I still need to sit down and talk about it with my brothers."
His brothers are all significantly older than Tyreke. Reggie, 35, is Tyreke's legal guardian; Eric "Pooh" Evans, 30, played ball at Cheyney University; Julius "Doc" Evans, 37, is the one who honed Tyreke's shot.
The trio has built a fortress of brotherhood around the basketball prodigy since he was a kid. They shepherded him to American Christian Academy, a private K through 12 school outside of Philly; ran his AAU team, Team Final; handle his media crush; and insulate him in ways that would impress even the most ardent NBA posse.
Critics have harped on the brothers for being too involved, interpreting their chronic monitoring as overbearing meddling, worried that they have Marv Marinoviched Evans into little more than a basketball robot.
Say what you will, Evans has never been suspended or ejected. And when he found himself in a serious, even dangerous situation, he defied the don't-snitch creed of the streets because his brothers told him to.
"Honestly, if my brothers didn't say anything to me about it, I wouldn't have done it, wouldn't have said a word," Evans said. "They told me to do the right thing."
The right thing involved IDing a shooter in a homicide -- a shooter who just so happened to be Evans' 16-year-old cousin.
On Nov. 25, 2007, Tyreke Evans drove to his aunt's house in Chester, Pa., to catch the end of an NFL game. His mother called to tell him she had baked some pies, so Evans decided to head home.
His cousin, Jamar Evans, and two friends -- Dwayne Davis and Rasheen Blackwell -- piled into Evans' Ford Expedition. Jamar Evans sat in the passenger seat. As they were about to leave, Davis and Blackwell shouted, "Go, he's about to shoot."
Evans later told police he heard one gunshot, and another shortly after, and then saw his cousin put a silver handgun in his sweatshirt. Nineteen-year-old Marcus Reason was killed, and Jamar Evans later turned himself in. Police believe it was gang-related.
I didn't want to say, 'I didn't have the chance to consider this or that.' I wanted to be sure that when I made the decision, I made the right decision.
Police immediately cleared Evans of any wrongdoing but that didn't squash the rumors. Reggie Evans never worried about Tyreke's safety. Reports that the family hired bodyguards were untrue, though organizers did tighten security at the first event in which American Christian played after the shooting first came to light.
What did worry Reggie Evans? Tyreke's reputation.
College coaches never wavered, both Reggie and Tyreke said. No scholarship offers were rescinded, no presumptions of guilt made. Instead, Tyreke explained what happened and each coach took him at his word. It was everyone else that Reggie worried about.
Word spread about the shooting like wildfire, jamming message boards from Texas to Kentucky to Connecticut. One Louisville poster, summing up the attitude of many, said, "Do we really need this guy?"
"People immediately perceived him to be a thug, something he's not," Reggie said. "You build a life, a career to be the best, to flawlessly walk the straight and narrow path, and then people knock you down. They read the paper, watch TV and take a kid in a situation and twist it all up. I didn't want people to say he was Rae Carruth or Michael Vick. He's not. He's not at all."
Evans proved to be just the opposite.
More than 800 people were murdered in Philadelphia in 2006 and 2007. Police not only were hamstrung to stop the violence, they were crippled by a city-wide no-snitch mentality. Terrified of retaliation, residents simply refused to cooperate with police, countless onlookers going mum during one broad-daylight shooting that critically wounded a 4-year-old girl.
Stores even went so far as to carry "Stop Snitchin'" and "Don't Talk 2 Police" T-shirts.
Into that maelstrom walked Evans, a public figure sure to be a plum target for retaliation. He met with police immediately after the shooting and in February, testified. He didn't actually see the shooting, just heard the gunshots and saw Jamar put the gun away. Still Jamar Evans was charged with third-degree murder.
"It helped that my cousin understood what I had to do," Tyreke said. "I just did the right thing."
Asked when he inked his first autograph, Tyreke Evans shouted to his brothers, "Hey when did someone ask me the first time to sign something?" The consensus was somewhere around the age of 10. By 12, he was playing on the varsity at American Christian; by 15, Nike set Evans up with his own AAU team; and, by 17, he was on the covers of both "Slam" and "Dime" magazines.
"At first it was strange, little kids would run up screaming, 'Tyreke, Tyreke!' or adults -- grown men -- would want his autograph," Reggie Evans said with a laugh. "But now we're used to it. He's like a child actor."
Evans isn't likely to go the way of Gary Coleman or Danny Bonaduce to flame out before adulthood reaches. His talent is too legit and his foundation too grounded.
That it is April and Evans' commitment letter isn't stuffed away in some cobwebbed filing cabinet speaks to the unusual nature of this unusual talent. Most high school kids announce their college decision before they sprout their first pimple, goaded into making a choice they are bound to honor regardless of the changes at the university.
Evans waited. Wednesday is the first day of the late signing period. By now, seniors usually are more picked over than the clearance rack at a Macy's one-day sale.
Sure, Evans had the luxury of knowing that no school in its right mind was going to pull a scholarship for a kid who averaged 29 points, eight rebounds, six assists, four steals and was named MVP of the McDonald's All-American game, but he also realized something few kids recognize until it's too late: The system is stacked against players.
Once players sign, they're beholden. Coaches might leave, returning players may opt in or out of the NBA draft, drastically affecting a recruit's playing time or quality of a team. But the letter of intent is more binding than most marriage licenses, requiring a release from Dictator U to be dissolved.
Evans could still be victimized. John Calipari could bolt for the NBA, Rose could stay, Augustin could leave. But by waiting, Evans played his cards about as well as they could be played.
"I didn't want to say, 'I didn't have the chance to consider this or that,'" he said. "I wanted to be sure that when I made the decision, I made the right decision."
In other words, he's buying one hat. For keeps.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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