REGGIE EVANS found out early there was something special about his younger brother Tyreke.
Reggie would bring Tyreke to a local playground, where they would practice free throws on a regulation court. With children swirling around one afternoon, Tyreke reared back with both hands over his shoulder and heaved a perfectly arcing sidewinder through the hoop. The kids mobbed Tyreke. Reggie couldn't believe it himself.
Tyreke was just 4. The ball was about as big as he was.
That's where it all began.
The 6-5 junior from American Christian, a private school in Aston with 400 students in grades 1 through 12, has since blossomed into the most heralded high school player from this area since Kobe Bryant. He has narrowed his choice of colleges to North Carolina, Villanova, Louisville, Connecticut and Memphis (with three alternates, Texas, Florida and Georgia Tech), but the truth is that every major college in the country will continue vying for his services these next 6 months.
He can play point guard, shooting guard, small forward. He can do almost anything he wants to on a basketball court.
Play him tight, he'll blow by you. Man up on him with someone larger, he'll sting you outside with jumpers.
After averaging 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists his junior year, Evans has a chance to eclipse 3,000 points before he finishes at American Christian next spring. (It should be noted he has been starting varsity at American Christian since seventh grade, which the private school allows its student-athletes to do.)
To many hoops junkies and experts, he's simply the best high school basketball player in the country.
To everyone except Evans, that is, who will travel thousands of miles this summer to various camps, AAU tournaments and national tryouts to prove he's something a little more - among the best players in the nation, outside of the NBA.
It's the most important summer of his young life. But you couldn't tell by Evans' placid gaze. He handles the adulation with ease, a byproduct of all the attention lavished on him since he was 10.
"I remember when I was younger, everyone would be outside worrying about girls, when I was playing at a local court, or dribbling around my house, shooting on telephone poles, because we didn't have a local court," Tyreke said. "I figured the girls and other stuff would come later. Playing ball was important. I used to sleep with my basketball. I suppose some people could look at what I might face this summer as pressure. But I don't. Everyone thinks I'm not used to this type of stuff. I was going through the meat of being No. 1 since I was 13. I got used to it then. I'm ready for it.
"Besides, I'm playing against some of the best players in the country. I'm doing something I love to do. That's all that counts."
It's an attitude forged by three older brothers - Julius (Doc), Reggie and Eric (Pooh), who won a state basketball championship his junior year at Chester High in 1994. Those were the guys who built Tyreke a portable court with a breakaway rim when he was 12, when Tyreke would stay out all night, rain or snow, and take shot after shot, or explore new moves.
Reggie, Doc and Pooh have stepped into the role of father figures since Tyreke's father, John Holmes, died suddenly last September. They were the ones their baby brother emulated from afar.
"I always had them around me, but I was living the kid's life," Tyreke said. "I was around 10 or 11 and I'd watch them play street ball. I used to be on the other court shooting by myself when they played.
"It made me mad, because I knew I could hang with them. When I went out there and got my chance, I showed them I could play, that I could defend them. I was always tall for my age, so everyone always thought I was older than I was, but I had this thing that I carried around, that I was 'Pooh's little brother' and that 'he's going to be nice when he gets older,' things like that."
It's safe to say Tyreke has his own identity now.
To understand Tyreke is to know his older brothers. They created him, prodded him; they are his harshest critics when he has a rare off night. Reggie, Doc and Pooh can sometimes appear overzealous when it comes to Tyreke, but he is, after all, their younger brother.
In fact, every time the three rave about Tyreke, he often shuts them off. He embarrasses easily.
They had a feeling Tyreke would be good, but not this good. Not good enough to have every major college coach have his home number on speed dial.
Tyreke was the baby of the bunch, both in the house and on the court. He was always playing up in age, from the time he was 6.
"No one really saw this coming," said Reggie, 34, who works as an operations manager for Communications Test Design in West Chester. "I knew 'Reke would be good when he was younger, playing in Chester's biddy league, scoring 40, 50 points a game.
"But when he grew 6 inches [5-8 to 6-2] when he was 13, I started to get a feeling something bigger could happen. But to be this big nationally, it took everyone by storm."
Reggie, Doc and Pooh have all taken a vested interest in cultivating Tyreke. They're careful as to what tournaments they place him in, and meticulous as to how his summer schedule breaks down, to his daily routine: attending school, then study hall, followed by a nap and then working out. That includes taking 1,000 to 1,500 shots until sometime around midnight at a local sports health club.
"Reggie and Doc looked after me and brought me along when I was at Chester, so now it's like a layer effect, with all of us working to help Tyreke," said Pooh, 30, who is finishing his degree in communications. "That comes with watching out for him.
"People came at him when Tyreke was younger. I was offered a thousand dollars for Tyreke to play in street ball games. I told the guy, 'No, my brother isn't worth any amount of money.' "
It's very important to Reggie, Doc and Pooh that Tyreke keep his Chester ties deeply rooted. It's an area that has produced wasted talents; then along came Jameer Nelson, who made the utmost of his ability and became the first player from Chester to reach the NBA.
Tyreke, 17, has a chance to be better then all of them.
The only difference is, Tyreke will never go to Chester High. Doc, Reggie and Pooh did. Tyreke wasn't about to - if they had any say.
"My experience at Chester was great; I had relationships with my teachers outside of school," Pooh said. "There are still good teachers there, but there is a lot of rowdiness at Chester High. There are a lot of ways to steer Tyreke wrong. If Tyreke went to Chester, there would a danger there . . . "
Adds Doc, 36, a Desert Storm veteran: "You don't want to go to a school with a metal detector, and all of us busted our butts so Tyreke would have something better. We had no choices when we were young.
"Don't get me wrong, we're proud of Chester, and Tyreke is frequently introduced as 'Chester's own,' but because he never will wear the orange and black of Chester, the majority of Chester fans won't support Tyreke, and that's a shame. When he's on the road, playing in primetime events, he sells out places. It's just a matter of us providing for Tyreke the things we never had. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting something better."
This summer, Tyreke is scheduled to attend the Kobe Bryant Skill Development Camp (June 25-28) in Orange County, Calif. He's also the only 2008 high school player invited to the 19-and-under Olympic National team tryout, in Dallas, beginning on June 28. If Tyreke makes the team, he'll spend July in Serbia, then return home to play in the Future Stars at Temple in August.
The Evans brothers say Tyreke will make his college choice prior to his senior season. And they stress that Tyreke will go to college.
"That's the plan. I foresee Tyreke moving on to play collegiately," said Reggie, who has already had agents slip him their business cards.
Adds Doc, "College is definitely in Tyreke's future, despite what people might speculate. We know he's going to college, whether it's for 1 or 4 years, we know he's going to college."
Tyreke says so, too.
Tyreke's older brothers grew up North Carolina fans, and you know Tyreke had to follow. The family is originally from North Carolina, where Tyreke's father was buried last fall.
"We're selective because we can be selective," Pooh said. "North Carolina would be our choice, but it's not about us, it's about him."
Tyreke often gets a little antsy and grows tired of listening to his brothers talking about him. He gets up and grabs a ball, retreating to the court to shoot with friends. It's all he's wanted to do since the ball was as large as he once was. Only he's much bigger now. *