November 4, 2010
Maurice "Mo" Evans has been bringing it since the days in Wichita.
By Pat McGuire
The superstar hype for Maurice Evans started early. “We used to have one-on-one tournaments in my neighborhood in Wichita every day and all the kids would try to find somebody who could beat me,” Evans says.
“It might have been someone who lived half a mile away but they’d say, ‘Play this guy!’ I took so much pride in being the best in my neighborhood.”
It wasn’t long until the best player on his block became the best player in his city and then all of Kansas. But before being named the state’s 1997 High School Player of the Year, before putting up huge numbers in college, before being named the 2004 Eurobasket All-League Player of the Year and long before the start of six consecutive playoff appearances on five different pro squads, “Mo” Evans had to become the best player in his own house.
“My dad played junior college ball in Kansas, but he stopped playing and started working to support my mother when she got pregnant,” Evans says. “He was always working; he was a plumber, so every now and then he would do a job and stop back at home and shoot with me with his work boots on. Finally, one day in eighth grade he played me in the backyard. My athleticism was starting to come along, so I started to dunk on him and wear him out, and all the family was out there watching and laughing. That was the last absolute time my dad and I played against each other—he was like, ‘Dude, I’m not about to embarrass myself and let you have your way with me.’ I’ll never forget that.”
When not posterizing his Pops on the family hoop, Evans spent his childhood learning the history of the game while soaking up virtues like loyalty, perseverance, hard work and accountability. He stayed up late watching “Showtime”-era LA basketball with his father and spent countless hours outside on the icy court in winter mimicking his heroes’ famous up-andunder moves . And although he ruled the asphalt as an upstart, Evans will also never forget the first time he met his match on the hardwood, and what it taught him.
“I went to Nationals when I was 14 with my little team of buddies from the neighborhood,” Evans says. “We got demolished by all these kids with nice uniforms from places we had never seen. We were just happy to be there, but those teams were used to playing against better competition and were there to win. I had that passion, that burning desire to be better, and I was mad that we got beat out. I remember saying, ‘That’s not gonna happen again.’”
And while that invincible fever of youth may not have earned him basketball immortality the way the 14-year-old Evans might have imagined, it was then that his newfound humility combined with his already-constant hunger to lay the foundation for how this unique talent would achieve and determine his many levels of future success.
“I made a total transformation,” Evans says. “The work was never the hard part for me. My ability was starting to catch up with all the hours I was putting in, and that’s when I started to get better.” Even so, despite a storied college career, Evans was not selected in the 2001 draft. But rather than makes excuses or point fingers, he resolved to keep working harder than ever. “When I didn’t get drafted, I went back in the gym the next day with my dad and my agent and we worked out and got better,” Evans says. “My family had ultimate confidence that we were gonna persevere and succeed regardless of the challenge. Whatever I have, I’m gonna find a way to contribute and be successful. In my heart I always knew I would end up playing basketball for a living.”
After briefly signing with Minnesota in 2001, Evans seized an opportunity to play professionally in Europe and led his teams in Greece and Italy to banner seasons, earning All Star and Player of the Year honors. But his sights were set firmly on a return to the US and in 2004 he accepted the chance to suit up for Sacramento. The move set off a fabled “journeyman” career that has seen Evans shift from California to Detroit to Los Angeles to Orlando to Atlanta, where in his third season he is now enjoying what for him must be the equivalent of growing roots. But with every new team comes the struggle to prove his worth to a new set of coaches, fans, reporters and city—a challenge for which Evans is more than ready.
When Evans was traded to Orlando in 2006, his coach pulled him into the office and informed him that he wasn’t going to be playing a lot. But instead of retaliating with anger or frustration, Evans was thankful for the candor. “I’ve always had to grind and beat guys out on every team I’ve gone to,” Evans says.
“But I hadn’t had a lot of coaches who had enough respect for me to tell me they weren’t gonna play me or they didn’t like my game. For him telling me that, I said, ‘When you do play me I’m gonna play my butt off, and when you don’t play me I can just cheer for my teammates and understand that it’s not gonna be my night.” Evans’s attitude got him on the floor immediately; he responded by scoring several points off the bench and ended up winning a starting position for the majority of the season. “It didn’t come right away, but I stuck with that motto that I was gonna play hard when the opportunity presented itself,” Evans says. “Just somebody being positive like that makes you want to run through a brick wall for them.”
Evans’ ferocious intensity and athletic versatility has earned him the frequent assignment of defending premiere guards and the most dangerous scoring threats. But to hear him tell it, it’s not only lightning quick reflexes and supreme skill on the court that keep him on point. “I play defense on the toughest players in the league but if I’m gonna prevent them from going out and scoring 60 points that night, I have to be prepared mentally.” Evans credits the time he spends reflecting and relaxing with family during the three week break at the end of each season to recharging his passion and mental toughness, in addition to a daily focus on simply being a good, healthy person. “Your personality off the court has everything to do with your success on the court,” Evans says. “It’s a way of life; you can’t think that when you leave the court for the day that you stop being a role model or professional representative for your team, yourself and your family.”
And in turn, the “business of basketball” has prepared Evans for a successful life off the hardwood. “When I deal with challenges off the court, it’s like nothing,” Evans says. “Coming from Wichita, Kansas, and not being drafted and always having to prove myself on every team I go to, I learned that if you want to succeed and make this your livelihood you have to conquer all these different challenges.”
But for all his ability to adapt to whatever city, continent, team or situation to which he’s dealt, there has always been one constant in Mo Evans’ journeyman life: the love of simply seeing the ball go through the hoop. “I love scoring,” Evans says. “I love being in an empty gym just shooting the ball, even rebounding for myself. That purity, that essence—putting the ball in the hole is the whole point of the game. I love standing underneath the goal and just working on my form. To me, that simple little motion makes it all worthwhile.”
Pat McGuire grew up literally across the street from Rupp Arena and has bled big blue for Kentucky basketball his entire life. There is a “Laettner scar” in his heart and on his knee, the latter due to a 2.1-seconds-too-soon celebratory table-kicking incident. A recent Beverly Hills High School Adult League Wednesday Night champion with Astronuts: Part Deux (you no doubt read about it), he is the Editor-in-Chief of FILTER Magazine in Los Angeles and has never faked the funk on a nasty dunk.