It’s hard to fathom the scrawny 12-year-old running up and down the court, through taller, much older players now. The national point of reference for Tyreke Evans doesn’t go that far back but a few years ago, when he burst on the scene at Memphis and this past season as the best rookie in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings.
There was always a plan, though, a rather simple plan attached to the 6-foot-6, 220-pound star. It’s taken off rapidly, beyond what even the planners had in mind for "T-Legend." At 20, he’s already been the McDonald’s and Jordan game MVP, MVP of the NBA Rookie Challenge game, and this year, NBA Rookie of the Year. In two years, Evans may be able to add another achievement as a gold medalist on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in London.
London and the NBA seemed light years from where it all began. There was no pretense to the plan. The Evans brothers had it all mapped out and were never afraid to admit it: The goal was to make younger brother Tyreke an NBA star.
It would start from high school, at American Christian, a small, Christian school in Aston, Pa. Reggie, Doc (Julius) and Pooh (Eric) — Tyreke’s older brothers — had no problems throwing their younger brother into the deep end. Because American Christian wasn’t affiliated with the PIAA, the governing body of Pennsylvania high school sports, Tyreke could start playing against high school-aged players much earlier than normal.
"People forget Tyreke was 12 when he started playing high school basketball," Reggie said. "We had people criticize us, question us: ‘What are you doing to him? Isn’t it too soon?’ Things like that. But we always believed in Tyreke. We put him right into the fire. We wanted to put him into situations where he could grow and build, and American Christian is where it started. People thought we were crazy for doing what we did. But Tyreke got out there and got exposure."
What also gets forgotten was how special a player Pooh Evans was. Once a starting point guard for the fabled Chester program, which is traditionally among the best in Pennsylvania, Pooh was Tyreke, only about eight inches shorter. Pooh also played in a different time, during the 1990s, and never played AAU basketball.
"For me, it was just high school, and that was it," said Pooh, who graduated with a degree in communications. "I didn’t have that guidance when I was in high school. Reggie and Doc didn’t know then what they know now. My high school coaching staff was old-school and reactive instead of proactive. I didn’t know anything, what schools were looking at me and what schools weren’t."
Until Pooh received a shoe box filled with college letters after his senior season and was told to fill them out. It was the way it was done then, but the Evans brothers weren’t going to experience that same process with Tyreke. There was no way.
Pooh, who now runs the highly successful Fidonce Player Development Program that has already placed a number of high school players into Division I programs, had a nice career at Division II Cheyney, but was unable to play for any of the Philadelphia-area Big 5 schools.
"It is kind of hard, because Pooh could have played Division I basketball," Reggie said. "If we knew then what we know now, it would have happened. Pooh was very talented, and you can see how talented he is today with all the work he does with Fidonce and what he’s been able to do with ’Reke. We all had to learn what to do differently when it was Tyreke’s time."
That started by selecting American Christian. All of the Evans brothers went to Chester, which is in a rough area of Southeastern Pennsylvania. There was no way Reggie, Doc and Pooh would send their baby brother through the same route they came.
"We all agreed that our brother wasn’t going to go to a school with a metal detector, which is something we had to do," Pooh stressed. "We wanted Tyreke to have a better life than we did. We all had a role in it. Everyone had their own responsibilities with ‘Reke. It’s a little too much for one person on their own. We all held each other accountable. The start was American Christian. That cultivated ’Reke’s game there. It allowed him to play right away."
Tyreke learned quickly. At first, he wasn’t able to do everything he usually did on the AAU circuit, where Tyreke sometimes played up in age.
"The most important thing I learned then, and I still have the same attitude now, is never show any emotion, never let anyone know what you’re thinking," Tyreke said. "You couldn’t tell if I made a great play or if I just turned the ball over. It’s the way I still try and play. But it started there, at American Christian. I was this little kid playing against some guys who looked like men to me. Remember, though, I was just 12 then."
It was around the time Tyreke entered his freshman year when things began circulating in basketball circles just how special he was — and how much better he could be. Tyreke had the misfortune of playing for three different coaches his first four years at American Christian.
But he also began growing. He was 6-5 his junior year. He started to put muscle weight on what were once skinny limbs. He developed an outside shooting touch and a wicked first step that is now one of the best in the NBA. He became impossible to defend.
During Evans’ junior and senior years, the Eagles played a national schedule so Tyreke was exposed to the rest of the nation. His career points, discounting the years he played varsity in seventh and eighth grade, eclipsed some all-time greats, like Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain.
Last week, Reggie got an excited call from someone, telling him Tyreke was about to be named NBA Rookie of the Year — the first from the Philadelphia area, ironically, since Geoff Petrie, the Kings’ general manager from Springfield, Delaware County, a 10-minute drive from Chester. Petrie was co-Rookie of the Year in 1971 along with the Boston Celtics’ Dave Cowens.
Petrie’s choice with the fourth overall selection in the 2009 draft had the Rookie of the Year all to himself. And somewhere, three older brothers smiled and nodded their heads.
"To be honest, this is better than I think any of us expected," Reggie admitted. "It’s all jaw-dropping. It’s what we all worked on in the lab. Doc put his shot together, I became his guardian and in a sense marketing guy, and Pooh took care of the basketball part. It started at home.
"Tyreke accepted the fact that we wanted to make him great — and he wanted to be great. It’s why he was doing stuff other kids his age weren’t doing. He was born and bred to be a star; it was always in him. I like to say we just brought it out."
Joseph Santoliquito covers high schools for the Philadelphia Daily News and is a contributor to MaxPreps.com. He can be contacted at JSantoliquito@yahoo.com.