It was supposed to be a festive holiday tournament atmosphere, highlighted by one of the nation's top high school basketball recruits on center stage last night.
Instead, accompanied by a police escort, Tyreke Evans and his American Christian high school teammates entered Widener University's Schwartz Center through a side door, avoiding a mass of television cameras as well as potential danger.
The team went straight to a locker room guarded by a Widener security officer. Inside, five huge men stood as bodyguards; the smallest was the size of a linebacker.
Such is the extremely cautious world these days of Tyreke Evans.
The 6-foot-6 basketball phenomenon faces what Chester Township authorities call the possibility of gang retaliation after a fatal shooting in Brookhaven.
Evans was at the scene of a homicide that involved his cousin Jamar "Mar Mar" Evans on Nov. 25. Jamar Evans, 16, is charged with first-and third-degree murder in the shooting death of 19-year-old Marcus Reason, and turned himself in to Chester Township authorities Saturday.
Chester Township Capt. Kenneth J. Coalson said investigators had no doubt that Reason's death was gang-related. The Evans family has reason to be fearful, he said, speaking from police contact with gang members in the Toby Farms neighborhood.
"They're pretty bold," Coalson said. "One guy in particular . . . wouldn't hesitate to shoot up someone in revenge."
Tyreke Evans, 18, is cooperating with authorities in the case.
"Is there some type of concern for Tyreke's safety in the corner of my mind? Of course; that's human nature," said Reggie Evans, Tyreke's older brother and legal guardian. "People perceive [his being at the scene] one way. They will think that he had some type of involvement. But he didn't do anything wrong."
Because he is cooperating with the police, others may feel that he "snitched" on his cousin, something that Reggie Evans denied. Under order from his lawyer, Brian McMonagle, Tyreke Evans had no comment.
"Who is he snitching on? Nobody," Reggie Evans said. "He didn't see anybody do nothing. He didn't see anybody shoot the gun. He didn't see that kid get laid out."
Plenty of protection
But the Evans family, Widener officials and organizers of last night's fourth annual Pete Nelson Classic at the university in Chester City didn't take any chances. They provided Evans with protection that enabled him to focus on basketball.
His family members and friends took up the first two rows behind American Christian's bench. There were official and unofficial bodyguards at the end of the bench. Several more protectors were sprinkled among the crowd.
"We've got two extra police officers," said Scholastic Play-By-Play Classics promoter Jeremy Treatman, who organized the event. "We have 18 police officers and two metal detectors. They are a mix of Widener campus safety and Chester police."
In the game, Evans showed why he is the nation's No. 1 senior player according to Slam and Dime magazines.
He finished with 30 points, 5 assists, 4 blocks and 3 steals in a 100-50 win over Atlantic City High School. American Christian is to play again tonight against the Hun School at 6:15.
"I don't see this bothering him," American Christian coach Tony Bergeron said.
Nor has it affected his recruitment. Evans has listed Louisville, Memphis, Texas, Connecticut and Villanova as his final five college choices.
"Not only has nobody on that list backed off," Bergeron said, "but every single school tried to create a twist that their school" is right for him.
Gangs and gunfire
Coalson said a group from Toby Farms, where Reason lived, and a group from Madison Street, where Jamar Evans lives, have been fighting for more than a year.
"By fighting, I mean exchanging gunfire," Coalson said.
He said Reason was known to police for curfew violations and had been a passenger in a car that was stopped by police a few days before his death. Reason was not charged in that incident, but police found a gun in the vehicle, Coalson said.
Jamar Evans had prior contact with Chester City police, Coalson said.
Investigators are trying to determine whether Reason fired a shot, as some witnesses have said. Coalson said Reason's clothing was sent to the state police laboratory to determine whether it contained gunshot residue.
Police did not recover a gun, but Coalson said that if Reason had one, his friends likely would have taken it.
He said it was hard to imagine that Tyreke Evans had no knowledge that some of the passengers in the Ford Expedition he was driving possessed guns and had brushes with the law.
"He knew what was going on," Coalson said.
Coalson said police were pleased that the basketball star had decided to cooperate, but added that it "took a while."
"He had to be coaxed to do the right thing," said Coalson, adding that the Evans family exerted some influence.
McMonagle said he did not expect that his client would face charges.
"He was trying to drive himself out of harm's way," said McMonagle, who added that his client was cooperating fully with law enforcement. "I guess he could have been killed himself that day. In one respect he was a victim, in another he is a witness.
"This wasn't a vehicle that was driving around," McMonagle said. The four young people in it, McMonagle said, were leaving an aunt's house to eat at Tyreke Evans' mother's house when the shooting occurred.
McMonagle said he had no idea what started the confrontation. "He's not part of the streets," McMonagle said of Tyreke Evans. "Sounds like he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Citing a "snitch-and-die mentality," State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D., Delaware) said he was not surprised that Evans' family feared for Tyreke Evans' safety.
"I think the young man is justified in his thinking that there could be some retaliation," Kirkland said. "I think law enforcement has to send a strong message that anyone who tries to harm him will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Kirkland, 52, who has lived in Chester his entire life, said Tyreke Evans had "stepped up to the plate" and done "what police are asking others to do," making him worthy of extra protection. He said he did not believe the family should have to bear the burden of providing security, but he said he understood its motivation.
"They want to make sure he's safe," Kirkland said. "If it was my child, I would do whatever was necessary."
He said he had not spoken to the police or the Evans family and had no plans to intervene unless the family requested it.
"This young man stepped up and did the right thing," Kirkland said. "His college hopes would have been dashed if he didn't."
"I think he's going to be looking over his shoulder for a while," Coalson said.