By Jimmy Spencer, special to NBA.com
Posted Apr 5 2010 10:30PM
SACRAMENTO (NBA.com exclusive) -- Tyreke Evans needs to be LeBron James -- at least in this moment.
The Kings rookie, leaning forward on the couch of his townhouse, is positioned directly in front of his 42-inch flat screen, grasping a PlayStation 3 controller.
Evans wants to play as the Cavaliers, mentioning that only sometimes he plays as himself with the Kings. His best friend and roommate, Dwayne Davis, grabs the other controller. Davis will play as Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, the same team Evans faced the night before in reality.
The two friends do their best impression of ordinary 20-year-olds.
"I'm the champ; I don't lose," Evans said, moving his black White Sox hat from forwards to backwards.
So much for the shy kid who typically keeps his head down and words soft when a light comes on or a recorder comes out. With the controller in his hand, Evans takes on the bubblier persona of LeBron.
When video game LeBron pounds his chest, so does Evans. When animated LeBron scores on a difficult shot, Evans gives his buddy a serious look and consoles him: "That's tough. All you can do is shake your head on that one."
When virtual Kobe starts fouling at the end of a game, Evans laughs and says, "Geez, don't get all mad Kobe, it's just a game."
For Evans, this is about as animated as he gets. He's not LeBron. He doesn't want to be.
"I never want to be like another player," Evans said. "I mean, I want to be Tyreke. I've always just wanted to be myself."
And being himself means being aloof to all that typically comes with being an NBA star. Evans is a low-profile guy playing in a small-market city that suits his personality.
But on the court, nothing is typical about the mild-mannered rookie.
Veiled in Sacramento, Evans is putting up numbers similar to James' inaugural season. He is the top candidate to win the league's Rookie Of The Year award, averaging 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists. Only James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson averaged 20-5-5 in their rookie seasons.
At 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, Evans barrels through the lane with quick acceleration and balanced finish. Though soft-spoken off the court, Evans, the youngest player on Sacramento's roster, has quickly become the Kings' leader and most electrifying player.
Before picking up the video game controller earlier on this March afternoon, Evans' mood was much more subdued.
In a white T-shirt and black warmup pants, Evans sat at a dark wood table that filled the small space between his kitchen and couches. He had just returned from the Kings' practice facility -- next door to the arena and five minutes from home -- and most of his attention was on the Subway sandwich in front of him.
"I should be sponsored by them I eat there so much," Evans cracked.
Also at the table were his two older brothers, 39-year-old Doc and 37-year-old Reggie, who were staying with their baby brother during a long homestand.
Tyreke, working on his sandwich, kept one eye on a college basketball game on TV. He listened more than he spoke as his older brothers hosted a Tyreke roundtable.
"This is him, man," said Reggie, leaning back and looking at Tyreke. "I hate to say it -- if it's dry and that's bad, that's what it is. The first reporter I ever talked to said: 'Man, this kid is quiet. You can't get two words out of him.'"
Questions about Tyreke's personality quickly reverted back to basketball. He wasn't interested in talking about his personal life.
"It's weird to have people interested in my life," Evans said. "I don't know if the public needs to know what is going on with me. Just my family and friends."
But Evans doesn't mean it in a rude, he's-too-good-for-the-fans kind of way.
"I always want to treat people right around here because they're the ones who come out and support you," he said.
He is just detached from the off-the-court aspects of being an NBA star.
And that's why Sacramento, the city that waved purple flags on street corners for Chris Webber and Mike Bibby when Evans was just a fifth grader in Philadelphia, is the perfect fit. It's not New York, it's not Chicago, it's not even the Bay Area.
The demands aren't there. Evans leads the simple life and keeps his only focus on basketball. On a practice day, he'll wake up and go to practice, come home and nap, maybe play video games or watch TV and that's about it.
"I want to keep this kind of life," he said. "I might step out every once in a while with my teammates but that's it -- nothing serious."
He'll go to a restaurant around the corner from the arena if the Kings win. Most nights, however, he just goes back to his modest pad.
"I knew Sacramento was going to be a quiet place and laid back," Evans said. "I wasn't looking to do too much anyways. I think it's a good fit for me, just to focus on basketball and not have to worry about too much. That's pretty cool."
Evans has always been basketball first. Doc remembers bringing his baby brother to open gyms where Evans grew up in Chester, Penn., outside of Philly, as a group of grown men sat and watched between their own games as a toddler dribbled through his legs and shot around on his own.
Years later that toddler grew to a scrawny 12-year-old who was already a varsity starter for American Christian, a pre-kindergarten to 12th grade school. He said he would have gone straight to the NBA from high school had it not been for the league's rule-change.
Ultimately, it came down to playing at Memphis or to staying closer to home at Villanova. He chose Memphis for the same reason it works in Sacramento: to keep the focus on basketball.
"I wanted to get away from home and try something new," Evans said. "I knew if I went to 'Nova it would have been crazy, everyone coming to the games from Philly. Too close."
The Memphis NIT game came on the TV at a point in the afternoon and though Evans said he misses the college experience, this game wasn't enough to keep Evans' attention.
"Want to go to the mall?" Evans asks his brothers and friend.
Evans carefully climbs into his black Mercedes S550 that is tightly parked along the left side of the small garage. His best friend jumps in shotgun, fiddles with the sound system and plays rapper Juelz Santana.
Evans parks his car with the valet -- the only true out-of-the-ordinary experience of the outing -- and strolls into the mall. For the most part, Sacramento leaves him alone.
Some heads turn in acknowledgment of the city's basketball prince. Teenagers walk by, whispering under their breath, "That's Tyreke." When a shy teenage girl asks for a photo with him, Evans is gentle with the nervous fan. He is gracious when fans approach and signs each of the five autograph requests during his trip.
The afternoon out is productive; Evans picks up some new hats of the local San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's. He also picks up a Yankees hat.
After the mall, it's back to the townhouse.
Evans is hoping for a trip later to his favorite restaurant, Red Lobster -- it's the cheddar biscuits and seafood pasta he loves -- but for now he settles for barbecue potato chips, which he pours out over a paper towel.
For Evans, at least for now, this life is enough.
You can follow Jimmy Spencer on twitter at www.twitter.com/jspencernbacom
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