This article appears in the November 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
It's remarkable how recently Tyreke Evans learned the basketball lesson that transformed him as a player.
Just three years ago, Evans, then only a middle schooler, played in a pickup game against a bunch of 20- and 30-year-old guys, including his now 33-year-old legal guardian and brother, Reggie. Before they took the floor, Reggie asked a single question: "Are you ready for this?" As they left the floor afterward, Reggie made just one evaluation: "On the basketball court, never, ever play scared."
The point was simple. Tyreke was clearly ready to play with the big boys, but he wasn't yet ready to seize the moment.
Consider that lesson learned. Evans, who is now a 6-foot-5, 190-pound sophomore combo guard at American Christian School, has been seizing the moment ever since.
"Reggie was trying to get me to understand one thing," says Evans, who is rated the nation's No. 1 hoop recruit in the Class of 2008 by SchoolSports.com. "I played well that day, but I played like I didn't want to make any mistakes. I take that day's lesson wherever I go."
Everywhere he went this past summer — a list of elite hoop showcases that included the Nike All-America Camp, the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp and the Nike Main Event tourney in Las Vegas — Evans made plays and made headlines. And the kid who's earned the nickname "Too Easy" most definitely did not play like he was trying to avoid making mistakes.
"It's a whole different thing now," says Evans, 16, who averaged 24.7 points per game as a freshman. "I've been going up against older guys all my life, and you'd better watch out because I'm coming at full speed with full pressure. When I step out on the court these days, I want to get the opponents out of there. I want to put the game away early. I don't need to be taking any big fourth-quarter shots."
Not that he isn't up for the job. Fact is, American Christian first-year head coach Ray Carroll rates Evans' physical ability and mental makeup among some pretty elite company. OK, exceptionally elite.
"At the age of 14, I've never seen a guard any better than Tyreke was," says Carroll, 28, a former Chester High and Fordham University guard. "I've seen some of the greatest guards this country has produced up close. I went to the ABCD Camp my junior year of high school and I played against guys like Chauncey Billups, Stephon Marbury, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant. And I still stand by that statement about Tyreke. But I've seen kids peak and not get any better after their mid-teens. And Tyreke understands that. He understands that without the work ethic, it's all for naught."
Playing well against the nation's best prep players as a rising sophomore during summer vacation is one thing. Getting mentioned in the same breath as some of the most talented NBA guards of the past decade is quite another. Clearly, there's a lot to like about Evans.
"Obviously, there's so much upside, but what I like most about him right now is that he's already an extremely crafty player," says Carroll, who was a high school teammate of Eric "Pooh" Evans, another of Tyreke's older brothers. "When we won the (1994) state championship at Chester, we scored off our defense. Then, when I went to play in the Atlantic 10, it was a huge shock for me to try to score out of sets and off screens and by reading defenses. Tyreke can already do that stuff and make the other kids around him better, as opposed to only using his athletic ability to dominate."
Then again, let's not just gloss over that athletic ability. Evans manages the game with a kind of stately control with the ball in his hands. He glides off the dribble and does it so fluidly that he almost looks like he's moving at half speed. Until he blows past the guy guarding him.
Evans is also a tremendous finisher in traffic and can do so explosively, but he's often content to simply loop a floater over a forest of arms and find nothing but net. Yes, he's smart. And smart enough to keep it simple, like timing a jab step perfectly to open up a passing lane, then hitting a cutter — all in the blink of an eye.
Then there's his shooting range. Be advised: Don't play off this guy or he'll drop bombs all night long.
But as much as he's a weapon on the court, Evans is also a role model. Even as a sophomore.
"We have some other really talented guys on this team, but he's an example to them," says Carroll, whose roster also boasts 6-foot-6 sophomore swingman Nasir Robinson, 6-foot-4 junior forward Blair Carter, 6-foot-3 sophomore combo guard Charles Smith and 7-foot junior center Hamadu Rohmaan. "Tyreke is such a respectful, humble and level-headed individual on and off the court. There's not a better example than a peer like that to get these guys to maximize their potential. Usually, the opposite is the case with your best player, but Tyreke is so humble and willing to learn, you wouldn't even know he's an elite player if you met him in the school hallway."
That's primarily because Evans understands the level of commitment he's facing.
"You have to make a lot of sacrifices to get where I want to be," says Evans, who does not yet have any collegiate favorites but has always been partial to North Carolina growing up. "You have to give things up, but if you want to get where I want to be, you've got to work for it."
Evans also understands it's best to give a straight answer. Even to the toughest questions.
"Hey man, I don't feel any pressure with all the media and the hype," he says. "Ask me a question, I'll tell you the answer."
Fair enough. So, is it scary or intimidating to have to think about playing at the collegiate level and beyond when you're only 16?
"Nah, it's not scary, but that's because I have a plan," says Evans. "I might not be ready for that type of game now, but it's my plan to be ready for that level by the time I'm in 12th grade. My plan is to be ready when I'm supposed to be ready."
Mission accomplished, Reggie. Tyreke isn't playing scared anymore.