SEATTLE — SEATTLE -- It was, for Kwame Evans, the most exciting weekend of his life when George Washington University won two NCAA tournament games to advance to the Sweet 16. Hoping to sleep late on Monday after the celebration of Sunday's second-round win over Southern University, Evans instead was abruptly awakened in his Tucson, Ariz., hotel room.
"It was my mother, and she was excited," Evans said, almost sheepishly. "She wanted me to see the paper."
After a weekend featuring thrilling victories by California and Michigan, what Evans saw in the paper was his likeness, dominating USA Today's front sports page. The photograph even brought a smile to the modest 19-year-old freshman out of Baltimore's Southern High School.
"My picture was never in the paper, not any place at any time this season," Evans said. "And to be on the front of USA Today, that was really exciting."
Overshadowed in high school as nationally ranked Dunbar High School hogged the Baltimore spotlight, Evans has burst onto the national scene in two games. He earned that recognition first last Friday when he displayed his dead-eye shooting skills by hitting five of five three-point shots and scored a team-high 19 points to help No. 12 seed George Washington upset No. 5 seed New Mexico in an opening-round NCAA tournament game. Then he contributed 12 points and five rebounds to Sunday's 90-80 victory over Southern.
Evans' performance is a big reason George Washington, making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1961, is playing in the Sweet 16, taking on the West Region's No. 1 seed, Michigan, at the Kingdome tonight. It's been an improbable ride for the Colonials, the lowest-seeded team left in the tournament and the 62nd team placed on the pairings board when the 64-team field was selected.
Although the presence of George Washington was questioned at the time, the Colonials have proved their legitimacy. In those two games, Evans, whose nickname is the Iceman for the way he calmly nails his outside shots, is averaging 15.5 points to lead the Colonials in scoring.
Thus, the prominent display in USA Today as well as being named the CBS Player of the Game after his performance against New Mexico -- not all that bad for a guy who averaged 4.3 points in just under 10 minutes a game before the tournament.
"All this has happened so quickly, and this is definitely the highlight of my career," said Evans, who is averaging just over 20 minutes a game in the tournament. "I was named the CBS Player of the Game, and then all of these cameras are in my face and everyone wants to talk to me. This is a new experience for me, being only a freshman."
And it's an experience and recognition that's probably overdue for the 6-foot-6, 173-pounder who was a first-team All-Metro performer his last two years at Southern. As a senior, he averaged 20.9 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, and his ability to hit his smoothly released outside jumpers made him the top shooting guard prospect in the area.
But with Dunbar contending for a national championship and showcasing players such as Terrance Alexander, Donta Bright and Michael Lloyd during his final two seasons, Evans received little recognition.
"Yeah, that was kind of frustrating," Evans said. "[Dunbar] got all the hype. I wasn't jealous, I just felt our team and our players deserved some recognition, too."
Although overlooked locally, the college scouts were recognizing the potential of Evans. Hundreds of schools scouted Evans, who was recruited heavily by George Washington, Providence, Penn State, Temple and Miami.
"In high school, he was a fantastic shooter, and there weren't too many who were better," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "When he first came to Southern, he wasn't a great player. But his work ethic was outstanding, and he was always looking to improve his game. He turned out to be a great offensive player."
Evans would make only one college visit -- down Interstate 95 and into the District of Columbia to George Washington. Upon his return home, the rest of his college visits were canceled.
"[Coach Mike Jarvis and assistant coach Ed Meyers] were just really good people who could relate to what I needed in a program," Evans said. "I wanted to be somewhere where there was a strong sense of a family background and [Jarvis and Meyers] made me feel that way. I just felt it was the best situation for me, and I didn't need to go anywhere else."
Also playing a factor for Evans was being close to his parents, Wallace and Frances Evans.
"I like my mother to be at games even when I'm not playing," Evans said. "Just seeing me in uniform gives a sense of enjoyment for both of them."
After watching their son play sparingly during the first part of the season, the Evanses went through a period in which they had to be content seeing their son on the bench.
"Toward the middle of the season I slacked off on defense," Evans said. "Coach Jarvis told me he wanted me to pick up my defense, and when I did I would play more. It was frustrating sitting because I couldn't help the team, but I was a better player when I got back."
Still Evans, who started just one game this season, didn't make a real breakthrough until his first NCAA game against New Mexico. When All-Atlantic 10 guard Dirkk Surles tired in the opening minutes and went to the bench, Evans went in and didn't display any of the tentativeness one might expect from a freshman playing in the national spotlight for the first time.
"I wasn't nervous. I've been playing basketball all my life and I just go out and play," Evans said. "Besides, those big games against Dunbar and Lake Clifton really prepare you for the crowd situations you face on the college level."
After the Colonials had pulled off the 82-68 upset, Evans celebrated briefly on the floor with his teammates. Then he made quick -- toward the second deck of the McKale Center on the Arizona State campus to greet his mother, who made her first airplane ride so she could share the special moment with her son.
"He hugged me and it was the most wonderful feeling I've ever had," Mrs. Evans said. "Here was a kid who never got recognition for things I thought he should have in high school, and he never complained. To see him play well in such a big win just sends chills though my whole body."
Jarvis, who has transformed a program that as recently as the 1988-89 season won just a single game, says that Evans "has the potential to be a big-time college guard." That has been proven in two tournament games, but Evans realizes he must bulk up his 173-pound frame if he wants to achieve the success that Jarvis has predicted for him.
But that's business to tend to during the off-season. Now Evans has shot himself into a main role on the George Washington team, and hopes to continue his steady play tonight against Michigan.
A year ago, he was a kid who could barely get a mention in Baltimore. Tonight, Evans, the only member of The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro team to play Division I basketball this season, is in the spotlight.
In prime time.
"This is a great feeling," Evans said. "There's not pressure on us against Michigan. We're just going to go out and do the best we can. Hopefully, we'll come out with a win so we can keep on going."