Evans wise beyond his peers

March 15, 2001|By Mike Preston

BOISE, Idaho - When George Mason freshman guard Richard Tynes wants off-the-court advice, he goes to senior teammate and forward George Evans. When he feels a little nervous about today's NCAA tournament opening-round game against Maryland, he gets inspiration from Evans.

Evans doesn't succumb to daily pressure.

For Evans, pressure is when you're surrounded by eight armed Iraqi soldiers in the Gulf War. Pressure is serving tours of duty in the Army on peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Haiti.

Today's game against Maryland, the No. 3 seed in the West?

It's a picnic.

"I was in the Army for seven years," said Evans, 30, a born-again Christian. "In that time, I could have been killed if the Lord wasn't looking out for me. It may have taken me seven years before I enrolled in college, but there isn't a 30-year-old who wouldn't trade with me. I'm going to get my degree, I've got great teammates and I'm playing the game that I love. I'll always remember that it's just a game."

Evans, though, plays the game like there is no tomorrow. He is the Patriots' leading scorer with an 18.1 points-per-game average and is ranked sixth in the nation in field-goal percentage at .611. He has scored in double figures in 97 of 115 career games, and has career totals of 222 assists, 218 steals and 210 blocked shots, only the fourth player in NCAA history to reach 200 in each category.

There is also another special class for Evans: He was named the CAA Player of the Year for the third straight season, joining former Navy star David Robinson as the only player to accomplish that feat. Scouts project him as a role player in the NBA at best, but that's a stretch.

He's only 6 feet 7, and doesn't have a touch past 8 feet. But that's not what Evans is about. He is about toughness and a blue-collar work ethic going from the public housing complexes in Portsmouth, Va., through the Middle East deserts, to the NCAA tournament in Boise. (We won't hold that against him.).

"He is a really good player," said Terps reserve center Mike Mardesich. "We are all familiar with him. I've played with him, Terence [Terps forward Terence Morris] has played with him as well. He is good leader for them and plays hard every day."

Evans learned the work ethic early. His father left home when he was 8, and his mother worked two jobs. Three years later his mother reportedly was arrested for credit card fraud while trying to buy Christmas gifts they could not afford.

Evans, the oldest of three boys, took on the role as mother at times, often walking the streets to make sure his brothers got home before dark. He made sure they took baths, did homework and helped get them off to school.

As a senior at I. C. Norcom High, Evans averaged only 2.1 points a game, but had some feelers from Virginia State and Hawaii. The Army, though, was looking for a few good men, and Evans was looking for some money to send back.

He got more than just money. How about life-threatening experiences and horrible memories?

In Haiti, he saw police beating up citizens, people living in cardboard boxes, women sifting through trash cans and children leaping through fires to get food. There was no electricity, no running water.

In the Persian Gulf, eight Iraqi soldiers with AK-47's surprised and surrounded members of his troops. Evans thought he was going to die, only to learn that the soldiers wanted to surrender in exchange for food.

"I can never, ever forget those things," said Evans.

Somehow, Evans remained focused on basketball.

Fellow soldiers told him he ought to leave the Army and try for the NBA. Evans impressed college scouts by playing on a traveling service team. He later played up in Aberdeen before deciding to attend George Mason.

But Evans wasn't going to be an overnight sensation. He wanted a minor role.

"At that time, I'm sure if you asked George about his potential as a basketball player, what he would have said was `If I got to college, I hope I can be a contributor,' " said George Mason coach Jim Larranaga. "I don't think he planned the kind of basketball career he ended up having."

It wasn't easy.

Evans developed move by move, year by year. A jump hook here, a one-handed runner there. A drop step, then a fadeaway. Bank shots and combating the double team.

He is self-made.

"I think his time in the Army made him a very disciplined and motivated person, and that has shown up on the court," said Larranaga. "Our guys see his success and want to play as hard as he does."

It's a nice example to have, but Evans takes some ribbing from the younger players. They don't hesitate to tell the old man to "get that stuff out of here" when they block his shot. Yesterday, when he dropped a pass during an inbounds play, one of his teammates told "Desert Storm" he needed to improve his hands.

"They talk trash all the time," said Evans, of both teammates and opponents. "It's kind of funny because it just makes me appreciate it more when I score on them or rebound over them."

But there is no generation gap. He spends a lot of time wrestling in hotel rooms with the young players like Tynes, or playing video games.

He has left a favorable impression with them on the court as well as off.

"At first, I felt uncomfortable with my role," said Evans. "At the beginning, I didn't want to come here and be the big brother, the father. Guys came here to get away from that. But they look to me for advice, maturity. I've tried to lead by example."

"George can't be replaced," said Patriots senior guard Tremaine Price. "One day I'll be able to tell my kids I played with such a person."

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