Evans, Rose bonded by history
Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose were stars at Memphis before jumping to NBA
Rose served as Evans' guide when the Kings rookie visited Memphis
While Rose is a more polished passer, Evans has been a better scorer
SACRAMENTO -- When Tyreke Evans took his recruiting trip to the University of Memphis two years ago, Derrick Rose was his host, and on the way home Evans decided to become a Tiger. He would follow Rose to Memphis, to the Final Four, to the top of the draft board, and to NBA stardom, preferably in a one-year span.
With that, Evans opted for life in a very long shadow. He played point guard at Memphis, but he was never the distributor that Rose was. He took the Tigers to the Sweet 16, but Rose had taken them to the national championship game. He was picked fourth in the draft, but Rose had been picked first. By any reasonable standard, Evans was a sensation. But compared to Rose, he was almost a come-down.
Now, Evans has entered a league in which Rose is the reigning Rookie of the Year. Evans is already running second in early Rookie of the Year returns to another flashy point guard, Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings. But what Evans is doing in Sacramento, much like what he did in Memphis, is impressive in its own right.
With Kevin Martin rehabbing a broken wrist, Evans is scoring more than 16 points per game and has led the Kings to a 5-5 start, which may not sound like much in Boston or Los Angeles, but has a few cowbells ringing again around Sacramento. Evans is not Rose or Jennings, but the Kings will take him how he is. "We're happy with our guy," said Paul Westphal, the Kings' first-year coach.
Rose and Evans matched up for the first time Tuesday night at Arco Arena, and predictably, Rose's Bulls beat Evans' Kings. The Bulls are more experienced and potent than the Kings, just as Rose's Memphis team was more experienced and potent than the one Evans inherited a year later. But beyond the final score, Evans outplayed Rose on Tuesday, scoring twice as many points (20-10) and attacking the rim in a manner reminiscent of his fellow Tiger.
"This was weird," Rose said afterward. "It was the first time I'd ever played someone who went to my school -- and is younger than me." Rose, the elder statesman, turned 21 last month; Evans is still 20.
They have more in common than their age group and alma mater. Evans and Rose were both point-guard prodigies who grew up with three watchful big brothers and apprenticed under John Calipari, Rose in 2007-08 and Evans in '08-09. From the beginning, Rose was quicker, Evans stronger. Rose was the more polished passer, Evans the more prolific scorer. They both played with emotion that belied their lack of expression. They both needed work on their jump shots.
In the past few weeks, Evans has finally started to slip out of the shadows. He has been the best rookie outside of Milwaukee while Rose is fighting off the initial stages of a sophomore slump, bothered by an ankle injury that has robbed some of his explosiveness and forced him to settle for more jumpers. Evans, meanwhile, has been pushed into a leadership role, just as he was at Memphis. Without Martin, he is already the Kings' primary scoring option, and he works on his shot every day after practice with 79-year-old assistant coach Pete Carril.
"When [Martin] got hurt, I knew I'd have to play harder," Evans said. "I was thinking too much at the beginning. Now I just go out and play."
He will never be a classic pass-first point guard, in the way that Rose is, but he has already proved that he can score whether he's running the offense or not. In the final moments of Tuesday's game, Evans and Rose came together at half-court for a quick hug. Meanwhile, Memphis was in the closing seconds of a game against Kansas, the team that two years ago swiped a national title from Rose's usually reliable grasp. The Tigers fell to the Jayhawks again Tuesday, but they lost by only two points, encouraging given that Calipari, Evans and Rose are all gone.
It was a fine night in Kansas and Chicago. But with an eye on the past and the future, it might have been a better one in Memphis.
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