Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Turbulent background helps Reggie Evans appreciate, capitalize on all opportunities

Kings forward Reggie Evans (30) prepares to go to the basket against Memphis center Kosta Koufos (41) on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Kings forward Reggie Evans (30) prepares to go to the basket against Memphis center Kosta Koufos (41) on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Reggie Evans stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 245 pounds, and for the better part of 13 NBA seasons, not much has changed. He has maintained the muscular mentality of a bricklayer, the brute strength to rescue kittens trapped underneath SUVs, and a relentless desire to play the game that changed his life – maybe even saved his life – for another four or five years.

So, OK, he says with a grin, the unruly dark beard that droops several inches below his chin is a relatively new development. He changed his appearance six or seven years ago, he admits, partly to enhance his reputation as one of the league’s most bruising defenders and formidable rebounders.

But other than that? Or the fact he has a wife and four children? This is the same guy, same game, same goals, same motivation. He grew up in the projects in Pensacola, Fla., without his father, with three older siblings, and with a mother who worked as a housekeeper at a local mall.

“We didn’t have a car growing up, nothing like that,” Evans said after the Kings 97-85 loss Sunday to the Memphis Grizzlies. “She took the city bus. We grew up in the projects, never got to the beach or anything like that. It was pretty tough. That’s where my attitude comes from. You had to be tough.”

Though his minutes have been sporadic since he was acquired by the Kings in the Feb. 19 trade that sent Marcus Thornton to the Brooklyn Nets, when the backup power forward steps on the court, he’s impossible to ignore. It’s the beard, the persona, the edginess and, mostly, the physicality. If his performance against the Grizzlies was unusual in terms of minutes (34) after seven straight DNPs, it offered a typical, if healthy sampling of what Evans has provided during his previous stops in Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia, Toronto, the Los Angeles Clippers and Nets.

Again, there is nothing subtle or nuanced to his highlight reel. Thrust into matchups against the 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol and 6-foot-9 Zach Randolph because of DeMarcus Cousins’ illness and Jason Thompson’s early foul trouble, the one-time Iowa standout set hard screens, utilized his strength, reach and instincts to grab a season-high 20 rebounds, accounting for almost half the Kings total (42). He tossed in 17 points – an offensive eruption given his 4.1 per game average entering the season – and tapped balls loose to extend possessions, energize his teammates, and in general, help transform a Memphis rout into a fairly entertaining game.

“I give a lot of credit to Reggie Evans,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “He had that energy and that toughness that we needed out there. We got back in the game, but I hate the fact that we get in those kind of holes where we have to constantly fight ourselves out of it.”

Left unsaid was this: An undersized 34-year-old power forward turned the game around. Any chance the younger, quicker, more athletic Kings frontcourt players might observe or even ask for a few tips, say, about positioning, reading the flight of the ball, using lower body strength against the league’s premier rebounders and defenders?

Though Evans was more enamored of Michael Jordan than former NBA rebounding artists Dennis Rodman or Moses Malone during his own boyhood years, as soon as he entered the NBA, he became all ears. Undrafted after leading the nation in double doubles his final year at Iowa, he signed a make-good contract with the Sonics, and in the ensuing 41/2 seasons, attached himself to head coaches Nate McMillan, Dwane Casey and George Karl, peppering them with questions about technique, angles, anticipation.

“I was birthed in this league by some great coaches,” Evans added, “and I was especially close to Nate, my first coach. He told me that if I did what he told me, rebounded and played defense, that I could last in this league a long time. It’s all about being determined, understanding your role, and being good at your craft. Have an attitude, and when it comes to rebounding, ‘just go get it.’ ”

His trying, turbulent background has helped him appreciate and capitalize on all opportunities, wherever, whenever. Like all players, he wants more minutes. But like consummate professionals, he stays in shape, stays ready, and he never forgets. There was a time and a place – a former life, he says – that was miles and miles and miles from the NBA.

As he walked out of the locker room, Evans, who has a foundation for underprivileged youth in his hometown, was asked about the name, “Tyler,” that was scripted on the front of his baseball cap. “Tyler was my nephew,” Evans said softly, “and he was killed back home just before training camp. Someone put a hit out on him. We filed a missing person’s report, and my sister … well, when we heard from the police, it was just awful.”

With a slight shake of his head, he added, quietly, “He was 26.”

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

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