"As a player it's easy to overlook the importance of the camps and the teaching because you're at a point you know what makes you go. But then learning how to help somebody else be motivated, it's an inspiration for me."
Fans who watched Evans directing the Dogs back in the 1992-93 seasons recall this point guard could certainly inspire Mississippi State. Recruited by Coach Richard Williams out of Odessa (Texas) College, Evans dashed and darted through the SEC for two electrifying campaigns. He became the first player ever to lead the league in both assists and steals for consecutive years, and re-wrote the SEC's two-year mark with 7.96 assists averaged. His 454 scoring passes were a program record that lasted 15 years until surpassed by Jamont Gordon in his third year.
Of course while that MSU mark fell, Evans was still dribbling and dishing with Worcester in the British Basketball Association. It's the latest of his many career-stops in European ball, and in many ways his most enjoyable so far. "It's in their Premier League. It's the best they have to offer. Based on how I played last season I have a contract for next year and here I am, turning 37." An age he carries quite easily, though pleas by former MSU teammate and current co-camp aide Darryl Wilson to go play some pick-up ball after a day of camping draw a shake and smile. "You guys don't know how much my body aches!" Evans half-laughs.
"I don't play so much in summer time, because it wears you down. It's important I'm at full-throttle for the season. It may be fine for a shooter like Darryl!" Certainly Evans preserves his, umm, matured abilities with a regimen of endurance and agility training as well as stretching. He has a big help with the latter from wife Monica, a yoga teacher and graduate of a German sports university who ultimately hopes to open a gym when the couple and son Phil settles permanently in America. Specifically in metro Atlanta, where the family will stay this coming year.
"The approach now is to start building something here," says the College Park native, who is re-adjusting to some aspects of ‘normal' life, "Stuff I haven't had to deal with the last ten years. There they take care of your automobiles, here we just rent something. I've asked some of the people around here, Coach Stansbury and others, about finding a good car."
"My wife has sacrificed so now we want to start doing some things, like start a business based on her fitness degree. I know it's been difficult but now it's time to give back…unless I get a call from Mississippi State or something!" Yes, this alumnus—he earned his degree in 1998—would listen to an offer from the alma mater once he's ready for a full-time seat on the sideline.
For now, the contract with Worcester holds and Evans is coming off a rewarding winter. The basketball wasn't quite as good as what he experienced playing for teams in Russia, Germany, Poland, and Spain. "And I played games in every country in Europe because I was on an international team that traveled." Still if the game wasn't of the best caliber, Evans found Worcester fit well in other ways.
"Maybe it was the fact that for the first time I was in a place I could truly express myself, because they understood what I was saying! Where other places I had to be cognizant of them maybe not understanding me. I could communicate with referees, the players, management, that made me really enjoy it." English might be the nearest thing to a universal lingo but there are still barriers. Such as the Polish coach who used a son to translate orders during the game. Of course Evans already had issues with that coach and once had to threaten not to make the game until his paycheck was brought to the house first. "And we won the game!"
Fortunately, Evans has been able to ‘communicate' with teammates all along the way in basketball language. "They figure out if they get open Chuck will get them the ball!" he laughs. "I guess that's my basketball language.
"I've made a living out of making other guys look good. It's helped me continue to get jobs. Of course it doesn't get me that Dampier money but it keeps food on the table!" And as he notes, there is always another team needing an experienced and stable triggerman at the point. That's how he ended up at Worcester.
"I was hesitant because I was already under contract in Germany. But I got out because of the chance to study at the masters level at Worcester University. And it was hard!" Strange, too, such as discovering that a ‘tutorial' in England doesn't mean meeting a grad-level student from the same class. "I go sit down with the professor, that's the tutor To sit there and have those discussion, I was like you guys just don't know how dumb I feel! They were like oh, you're doing fine." Enough so Evans can earn that masters by next year.
Basketball, now, he's long the master of. Putting Evans on the point turned Worcester from a four-game winner (in a 40-45 game slate) the previous year to a playoff club. Tough, but rewarding Evans calls it. "Of course the teams that sign me still think I can do it, but it comes down to me, can I still do it?" That's the players' pride speaking and Evans has every right.
Yet this past year gave Evans maybe a greater source of satisfaction. Part of his English pro contract called for him to coach—yes, head coach—a team. "Worcester Sixth Form College," he explains. It's not the same as an American college team, or even a junior college, but more like a prep school for ages 17-18. "When you leave high school you go to college which prepares you for university. It's the transitional phase."
"It was because of my contract, they have this program for the professionals to try to inspire youth to get more involved in basketball, grow the game. It was different but part of my situation there." On the surface a good one, too, as WSFC was what passed for the area hoops power. Except Evans was taking over a team that had graduated most of the top personnel.
"They didn't have as much talent and weren't expecting much." For sure Evans didn't know what to expect of himself. "I was blown away. Of course I had my ‘focused look' on, but inside I was like a jumping-jack! I didn't know what to say, I'd come to practice and say what should I do today? I didn't have a plan, I did it based it on my own experiences and after that kind of got a feel for what worked for the guys."
The result? At the end of the year in a double-overtime game, "We won the County league. I was so focused on my confusion I never realized the significance of what we accomplished. For them it was something they were very proud of. But the thing I was happy about, in that region they were the best the city I had to offer. So I had to break them down and build them back up, it was great for me."
And, perhaps, a key to his future? Evans was able to work camp at Odessa last year, but State's camps are in June and normally he can't get here until July. This year was different fortunately, and through emails to Marcus Grant and Phil Cunningham he was able to work the schedule for a week at Mississippi State. For a few days he is showing tricks of the playmaker's trade to boys all born well after he pulled on a pro uniform in Moscow years ago. He does have some experience here with 10-year-old Phil (short for Philemon), who shows signs of topping Pop before long.
"He's up to my chest now, getting tall with long arms!" said proud Dad. Phil does play roundball, as well as soccer in Europe, so he's developing footwork to go with hand-eye coordination. Evans wouldn't mind if the lad grows up to become a kicker for Coach Sylvester Croom, though "He loves to watch baseball on TV! It's tough hitting that white ball coming at you at 95 miles per hour but I'll give him an opportunity to do that!"
And opportunity is what Evans is all about. After all, he reminds, he wasn't a prep star in Atlanta nor could he attract major attention. He played a year at Old Dominion and was Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, yet still longed for a spot in the SEC. When an unexpected offer came from Mississippi State, he jumped. "I told Coach Williams I'd come pick up the papers and sign them, I didn't want to take the chance they would change their mind!
"I wonder sometimes, have I really said ‘thanks' just for taking that chance? I mean you're talking about somebody 5-10 on a good day, a chubby little dude coming in the SEC and competing against these teams." Even if his '92 and '93 teams didn't win the way he wanted, Evans—along with Grant—helped Williams' program make the transition to the successes of 1994-96. Two All-SEC honors came his way, too, and ultimately an open door to this ongoing professional career.
"It's a very competitive sport and I'm very fortunate to be a part of it for such a long period of time compared to others. I'm trying to maximize what I've learned and transfer that over to the next phase of my life." That phase might be another year away as Evans stays in demand. "I've told myself for two, three years this would be my final season, at the same time it's not about what I want to do, it's what I need to do. And if I need to play another season I can do that.
"The thing that humbles me, I still feel there's more to be done. I have to find something after basketball that still keeps that blood boiling. That's who I am. I don't know what it is, maybe it's coaching. But it's something I definitely have to look in to."