Maryland takes a risk on a talented player with troubled past
In the national recruiting rankings for the high school class of 2004, down past the Dwight Howard-led contingent that leapt straight to the NBA, and beyond a crowd of players who completed their college eligibility this March, was a 6-foot-3 point guard from George Wythe High in Richmond, Va., named Tyree Evans. He had scored more points in his senior year than all but two players in Virginia prep history -- Allen Iverson and Moses Malone -- and had earned a three-star rating and the 121st spot overall from Rivals.com. He had committed to Cincinnati, a supposed future gunner in Bob Huggins' backcourt.
But when the class of 2005 rankings came out, there was Evans again, as a four-star shooting guard from The Winchendon (Mass.) School who was ranked 60th overall, and still committed to Cincinnati. Despite academic issues that prolonged Evans' prep career, his stock had elevated; analyst Bob Gibbons had called Evans "the top prep-school wing guard in the nation," and Dave Telep of Scout.com remembers Evans as a "high-major prospect who was an elite shooter." The nation has yet to learn whether those appraisals will hold up in Division I. Because for the past three years, Evans essentially fell off the map.
It wasn't until April 16, 2008, the first day of the NCAA's spring signing period for recruits, that Evans' name resurfaced in mainstream college basketball news. That was when he signed a Letter of Intent with Maryland, a development that was announced with little fanfare in a press release, with Terrapins coach Gary Williams saying, "Tyree has worked hard to get himself in a position to play at the Division I level." Evans will begin playing in the ACC in an unconventional position: as a 23-year-old junior who, since his days as a schoolboy legend in the Commonwealth, has attended one prep school, taken a year off, played for two junior colleges, been charged with felonies on two separate occasions (for statutory rape and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute) that were pled down to misdemeanors, was sentenced to a year in jail (11 months were suspended and he served two weeks) and was involved in a fight with a teammate.
The constant amid all that turbulence has been Evans' ability to play basketball: This past season at Motlow State Community College in Lynchburg, Tenn., he averaged 21.1 points per game and made 44 percent of his three-point shots. And this, presumably, is why Williams -- who declined comment to SI.com -- took a risk by signing Evans one month after the Terps missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in the past four years. Now the question remains: Can Evans actually serve as an infusion into Maryland's struggling offense without doing greater damage to the image of Williams' program?
Evans, who returned to Richmond last week after finishing up obligations at Motlow State, told SI.com last Thursday that there is "no risk" of him squandering the second chance he's been given by Maryland. "I love the Terps for giving me a shot," he said, "and that's why when I get on the court and I'm a student, I'm going to bring it, 150 percent."
While Evans sounded genuinely thrilled about the prospect of making his much-delayed major college debut -- "my alarm goes off now, and I grab the basketball," he said -- his extensive baggage makes his recruitment by an ACC team that won a national championship earlier this decade an eyebrow-raising move. As Gibbons, who once raved about Evans' potential, says now, "I wonder why Maryland is taking such a gamble here. [Evans] just seems like someone who has never been socially able to conform to rules and regulations."
Most recently, beginning on June 25, 2007, Evans served a brief stint in Richmond City Jail as a result of an Aug. 26, 2005, arrest on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, according to court records obtained last week by SI.com. According to the documents and a source close to the situation, Evans was arrested during a traffic stop with more than one-half ounce of marijuana in individually wrapped bags, as well as a digital scale containing drug residue in the trunk of his car.
The initial felony charge of possession with intent to distribute near school property was plead down to misdemeanor possession with intent to distribute (less than one-half ounce) on June 14, 2007, and Evans received a 12-month jail sentence, with 11 months suspended pending good behavior and community service obligations. (On the same day that he was released from a jail that he called "the worst place in the world," Evans played in a Tri-City summer league contest in Richmond, and on July 19 appeared in the league's championship, which his team lost to a squad featuring Cleveland Cavaliers forward Ben Wallace.)
Evans told SI.com that Maryland's basketball staff was aware of his time behind bars -- "They know all about my past, and as long as it wasn't a felony, it was OK," he said. But Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow, when reached last Friday, said that while Williams had worked through the Academic Committee of the University Athletics Council to secure Evans' admission, Yow had not been informed of Evans' incarceration. "I was aware of a misdemeanor [marijuana] charge -- that's it," she said.
In a written statement Yow later provided to SI.com, she explained that Maryland's Academic Committee had voted 4-1 to award one of its 27 academic high-risk admission slots to Evans, partially on the strength of a letter of recommendation from Motlow State coach Bobby Steinburg. "Only in a peripheral way was there a discussion about the citizenship issues of [Evans'] past, since the Committee is not charged with that responsibility," wrote Yow, who was not present at the vote due to responsibilities at the ACC meetings in Greensboro, N.C. "But Gary made it clear that he believed the issues Tyree had were behind him now."