Closer Look: Reggie Evans

by Alex Kramers Contributor

Get an inside look at how the Pensacola, Fla. native developed into one of the NBA’s top all-time rebounders.

While Reggie Evans is renowned as one of the League’s fiercest defenders and most tenacious rebounders, the Kings forward grew up idolizing and modeling his game after a 10-time NBA scoring champion.

“Michael Jordan – it was all M.J.” says Evans, repeating the iconic superstar’s initials several times for emphasis. “I can remember my black-and-red basketball my mama got for me and (how) I was going crazy over it. It was all about Michael Jordan – that was it.”

For No. 30, finding his niche and ultimate calling card to NBA success proved to be a trying process many years in the making and defined by overcoming obstacles – beginning with the dangerous, drug-infested street corners surrounding the Pensacola, Fla. housing projects where he was raised.

“My upbringing was tough – a lot of struggles – but (I’m) very appreciative,” says Evans, whose mother worked numerous jobs and whose father served time in prison. “My upbringing was happy though. The environment was really negative because (there were) a lot of drugs, but you had to be tough to grow up in my environment, and that’s how I kind of played.”

Grueling pick-up games on local playgrounds helped shape the 6-foot-8 forward into a tough-minded, hard-nosed player, able to withstand contact and bulldoze his way through throngs of overmatched opponents to corral loose caroms.

“When we played basketball on the court, you had to play tough,” he explains. “You get hit, knocked on the cement – get back up, play. No matter if you get scratched, scarred up – still get up and play. So it was really tough.”

Unrecruited out of high school, Evans enrolled at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, where he averaged 22.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per contest as a sophomore en route to earning NJCAA All-American honors. Upon transferring to the University of Iowa, the big man led the nation in double-doubles, as well as free-throws made and attempted in 2000-01, and was named Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American two straight seasons.

Yet, as Evans listened to the names of 58 players selected in the 2002 Draft, the forward was devastated to discover he’d been overlooked by every NBA franchise.

“I cried,” he admits. “I had walked from my grandma’s house to home – that was a long walk – (there) was a lot of crying. Just based on what I did in junior college and based on what I did at Iowa, I felt like I should’ve been drafted, but it only made me stronger. I cried, and then the next day, I think I got my brother’s truck and just went to the gym – went back on my grind.”

The Florida native’s relentless work ethic and non-stop motor led to a training camp invite from the Seattle SuperSonics, where a pivotal conversation with then-Head Coach Nate McMillan shifted his outlook and changed the course of his career.

“Coming to the NBA, I wanted to do what I was doing in junior college,” recalls Evans. “But Coach Nate told me that we have players who can score the basketball.”

A player who’d dreamed of becoming the next Michael Jordan was instead tasked with emulating Dennis Rodman as a rebounding and defensive specialist.

“Once he told me all he needed me to do, I was like, ‘OK, that’s all I have to do?’” continues Evans. “So I made the best out of it, pretty much.”

Since accepting McMillan’s challenge prior to the 2002-03 campaign, Evans is one of only three qualified players to average over 13 rebounds per 36 minutes, logging 13 games with 20 or more boards.

The 12th-year veteran holds the highest career total rebound percentage (21.9) among all active players and the second-highest mark in the category in NBA history among players with over 5,000 minutes.

“Play hard – just play hard,” says Evans regarding his remarkable accomplishments. “I’ve mastered the love for the game.”

While he’s tasked with defending and boxing out players with various skill sets on a nightly basis, the one constant remains forcing each opponent out of his comfort zone during every second Evans occupies the court.

Displaying an unmatched propensity for outhustling and outworking bigger and stronger counterparts, No. 30 is prepared to battle, scrap and tussle to seize the basketball – a tough-minded persona that traces back to his Pensacola roots.

“(My mindset is being) ready – locked-in from when it’s time to step in the gym,” he says. “How you prepare yourself getting dressed, shootaround – all that – (is important).”

Since being acquired from Brooklyn on Feb. 19, Evans has grabbed double-digit rebounds in six of 24 games, earning his way into the starting lineup while making an instant impression with his frenetic energy and valuable leadership.

“(Reggie) has been a joy,” says Kings Head Coach Michael Malone. “On the court, he has been tremendous for us. (He’s) a guy you knew could rebound at a very high level, you knew he was physical and could defend … his veteran leadership in the locker room and on the floor has been a huge addition and a positive for the team. (We’re) very excited to have him and I think it has been a positive experience for him so far.”

As a starter with the Kings, the Iowa product has averaged 4.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per outing – recording a season-high 18 boards against Dallas on March 29 – while contributing countless intangibles that don’t appear in the box score.

“Reggie is known as a hard-nosed, tough kid who has a lot of experience and been around a lot of very good teams,” says Malone. “I think from Day 1 when he came in, he had the respect (of the locker room).

“He has respect of the guys in the NBA because of the fact everybody knows he is very physical, he is not afraid and he is going to do whatever he can to help his teammates on the floor. I think all of his teammates appreciate that.”

While he continues to ascend the all-time rebounding ranks, unlike his idol, Evans hasn’t developed into an elite offensive threat, joining Rodman and Marcus Camby as only the third player in League history to average over 10 rebounds and fewer than five points per contest in a season – doing so twice.

Reflecting on his arduous, unconventional path to the NBA and unique place in League history, the 33-year-old takes pride in the fact he now serves as a role model to a new generation of players who are emulating the example he set over a decade prior.

“Now, when you see players getting drafted, they’re saying, ‘This player can be the next Reggie Evans,’” he says. “I feel like Coach Nate helped me carve my own lane in the NBA, and I think it’s great.”

Free Throws

- In addition to an uptick in playing time in Sacramento, Evans – who lists spending time with family as his only off-court hobby – has been equally grateful for the opportunity to maximize time spent with his young son.

“(The Kings) get an A+ because they let me bring my son to practice and stuff with me,” he says. “Any organization that lets me kick it with my family, we’re good.”

- Along with his celebrated glass-cleaning, Evans – who’s sported a bushy beard across his face throughout much of his career – has become distinguished by his rugged facial hair.

“That’s my trademark,” he says with a chuckle. “The funniest thing about it is when my son, he’ll get my pick and he’ll start trying to pick his (face). I’m like, ‘Son, you don’t have any hair on your face.’”

- Although he’s heard numerous nickname suggestions throughout his career, No. 30 explains he favors the tried-and-true moniker he’s had since birth.

“’Joker’ is my nickname – that’s my bread and butter, that’s my name forever,” he says. “It’s tattooed on me everywhere. When you go to Pensacola, you’ll hear ‘Joker’ so much, you won’t even hear ‘Reggie Evans.’ If you hear ‘Reggie Evans’ in Pensacola, that means they’re a fan. If you hear ‘Joker,’ that means they personally know me.”