Evans commits but won't sign at Memphis until Calipari signs own deal

Updated: April 16, 2008, 9:07 PM ET
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

ASTON, Pa. -- Over and over again, Tyreke Evans said he based his college choice on one factor: John Calipari.

So it's easy to understand why Evans, the fourth-rated high school basketball player in the country, announced Wednesday he was committing to play at Memphis -- and why he has yet to sign his national letter of intent.

Evans insisted there was nothing secretive about his decisions, explaining he had to head directly from the news conference held at his school, American Christian Academy, to New York and the Jordan Brand All-Star Classic, and that he would sign as soon as he returns Monday.

But there's also a little matter in Memphis that needs addressing.

Namely, Calipari needs to sign first. The coach and his university have agreed in principle on a contract extension but nothing has been signed yet. And, with talk swirling that Calipari might be considered for any of a handful of NBA jobs about to come open, it's in Evans' best interests to wait before making his commitment binding.

"I told him, don't put the hat on until you sign," said Evans' brother, Reggie.

And so Evans arrived at his high school, a squat two-story building with no sign that is impossible to find and easy to miss, empty-handed.

No hat, no grand gesture, just a roomful of people that included rapper Freeway, a cameraman in a Tyreke T-shirt, a group of little kids just out of school at American Christian and a bank of microphones and television cameras.

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When it finally came time to announce the decision that has held three fan bases captive for months (Memphis, Villanova and Texas), Evans whispered his choice so quietly almost no one could hear what it was.

"You're going to have to turn up the microphones because he doesn't talk loud," Evans' brother, Julius "Doc" Evans, joked.

"It was a tough decision," Tyreke said, "but the school I chose is the University of Memphis."

The announcement was about as stunning as a Secretariat win. Many people believed Evans had made the choice months before and that this waiting game was nothing more than a charade, a dance that already had a partner in the Tigers.

Evans said this wasn't the case at all. He said he waffled and wavered as late as Tuesday, not revealing even to his brothers his choice until three hours before his news conference.

"People are going to say what they're going to say," Evans said. "It was a very hard decision for me."

Evans said Derrick Rose's decision to go pro -- conveniently announced the day before Evans' news conference -- had nothing to do with his choice, that he would have been just as happy to play alongside Rose. In fact, when Evans made his official visit to Tennessee, it was Rose who sat down and talked to him at length about why Memphis would be the right fit for him.

Instead, Evans was swayed by Memphis' dribble-drive-motion offense, a scheme that quickly is becoming a favorite trend among players. More free-form, it is especially appealing to guards who get to break down their man off the dribble.

"We actually ran some of the plays here," Evans said about his high school team. "We had some success with it. I just liked how it was more up and down."

And even more than the offense, Evans said it was Calipari who successfully pushed Memphis as the player's college of choice. The coach was in Philadelphia over the weekend and met with Evans and his family on Sunday night, right after Evans returned from Portland and the Nike Hoops Summit. Calipari stuck around for a 76ers game on Monday night, but Monday began a dead period in recruiting.

Evans said he was impressed with Calipari's extra effort in visiting -- "that showed how much he really wanted me" -- but really liked the coach's ability to develop players. Evans won't say that he's one year at Memphis and done but he doesn't deny he'll stay in college only as long as it takes to get his game ready for the NBA.

On his first visit, Calipari came to Evans' Chester, Pa., home with an eight-step plan for Evans to achieve that dream.

"It was eight things you need to do to get to the next level," Reggie Evans said. "I can't remember all of them, but I remember one was about body language. I remember us talking about how Tyreke can be so smooth, it can be misunderstood for being lazy. Honestly, I think that sold Tyreke."

Now all Calipari needs to do is make his own deal a done deal and the partnership will be complete.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

Dana O'Neil | email

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