Georgetown's Austin Freeman, left, battles for a loose ball against Memphis' Tyreke Evans (12) during the first half of an NCAA college men's basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008, in Washington.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Georgetown’s Austin Freeman, left, battles for a loose ball against Memphis’ Tyreke Evans (12) during the first half of an NCAA college men’s basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008, in Washington.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Tyreke Evans, shortly before heading to Memphis for his freshman year... Stephanie Bahnatka- 1stflashphotography.com

Tyreke Evans, shortly before heading to Memphis for his freshman year... Stephanie Bahnatka- 1stflashphotography.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Kevin Tatum
Inquirer Staff Writer

Tyreke Evans left home to play college basketball and certainly took his jump shot with him.
Memphis played for the NCAA title last season, but this season, the Chester native is the Tigers’ leading scorer.

Evans, a freshman guard, was averaging 16.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.6 steals going into Memphis’ game against Syracuse today. Evans and the Tigers will play Drexel on Monday in Memphis.

But Evans also took with him a sense that it was time to grow up.

“Leaving home is big,” Evans said in a recent interview. “Time to man up, being in college and doing what you have to do. It’s like I thought it would be, and I like it better than high school. You’re more on your own.”

Though hindered by ankle and foot injuries, the 6-foot-6 Evans has played well enough to be the Conference-USA co-rookie of the week three times this fall. Memphis is 6-2. Evans’ season high is the 29 points he delivered on Dec. 2 in a 100-61 rout of Marist, and he has also had two 19-point outings.

Memphis returned eight letter-winners from last year’s squad, which won 38 games, an NCAA record, before falling to Kansas in the title game. Among the missing is guard Derrick Rose, who was taken by the Chicago Bulls with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft after averaging 14.9 points and 4.5 rebounds as a freshman.

“I’m going to stay for as many years as I need to,” Evans said of his future.

For a while in late 2007, Evans had more pressing concerns. His cousin was charged with first- and third-degree murder after allegedly shooting a person on the street while riding in an SUV Evans was driving. Evans was not charged in the incident, which occurred on Nov. 25, 2007.

Evans was in the midst of his last season playing at American Christian Academy. Memphis coach John Calipari did not back off recruiting Evans because of the circumstances.

“This kid is so different from the perception about him out there in the public realm,” Calipari said. “He is very coachable, and wants to be coached. It’s important that he wants to learn because I’ve been around some players in the past that didn’t want to be coached. First, Tyreke is an unbelievable kid, and second, he is a tremendous talent.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright, who became familiar with Evans and his family when the player was in the ninth grade, said he had bittersweet feelings about not landing Evans.

“As much as we would have loved to have had him here, we just feel good that he has found a place that can help him achieve his dreams,” Wright said. “His family was very forthright and honest with us every step of the way. He’s a great kid and an extremely gifted basketball player.”

In high school, Evans averaged 32.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 4.3 steals. He has all the attributes – he can create off the dribble, finish, and shoot with range – and Calipari can’t wait until Evans’ physical gifts begin to pay dividends at the defensive end of the court.

“When he learns what he’s capable of defensively, you are going to sit back and say, ‘Wow!’ ” Calipari said.

“It’s a long season and I’m just trying to get better,” Evans said. “Guys are bigger and stronger, and it’s a totally different game. I’m working in the weight room because it’s a physical game. That’s more of a factor than in high school.”

As for living in Memphis, Evans has only one minor concern.

“Memphis is a little slower than back home, but people treat me good,” he said, “I do miss the cheesesteaks. They have a couple of spots here, but they’re not like at home.”

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