It has taken five years of coaxing to make Kwame Evans realize he is a big-time basketball scorer. Now he has one year to complete the rest of his game and fulfill his potential, which his coach believes is in the NBA.
Evans was content being a role player at Southern High, where Meredith Smith threatened him with being benched in an effort to make him shoot more. Even though it was more of the same when he arrived at George Washington, Evans, a 6-foot-6 junior, has become the leading scorer in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
George Washington coach Mike Jarvis said that if Evans becomes as assertive in the weight room and on defense as he has become offensively, "He can make it at the next level."
"Kwame is still a kid, and it's nice that he is," Jarvis said. "A lot of people don't get to enjoy that phase of their lives, but now it's time for him to move on to the next stage, when he takes the course of action to be what everyone thinks he can be, which is a great basketball player."
Evans says he didn't know how to play defense when he got to college. He says he knows he has to add some bulk to his 190-pound frame. There's plenty of meat, however, to his offensive game.
Evans is averaging 19.8 points to top a conference that includes Massachusetts forward Lou Roe. A nonstop runner who cuts off screens and works the baseline to get open, Evans is also the Colonials' second-leading rebounder. But he doesn't revel in so prominent a role.
"Kwame's personality has prevented him from being comfortable with being the focal point of this team," Jarvis said. "The best thing that's going to happen to him is that we're going to graduate six seniors. Next year, hopefully, once and for all, Kwame will realize he has to step up."
Evans moved in that direction this week. On Sunday, he was held to six points by Temple, the first time in 32 games he hadn't scored in double figures. Two days later, the Colonials' bid for a third straight NCAA tournament was further jeopardized in a loss to Rutgers, but Evans had 32 points on a career-high 26 shots.
"I've never been the kind of guy to say I'm the big dog, the scoring leader or whatever," Evans said. "Wherever I've played, I basically just wanted to fit in with the other players. Wherever I've gone, coaches have wanted me to shoot more, but if I had to take another role to help this team, I would."
The careers of his parents provide a clue to the origin of Evans' accommodating nature. His mother, Frances Evans, has taught at a school for emotionally disturbed children for 23 years. Her husband, Wallace, is a coordinator at a nursing home.
Evans spent his freshman year at Archbishop Curley High, before his basketball education was entrusted to Smith, the coach at Southern High, a family friend and his godfather.
"Kwame made himself into an outstanding basketball player," Smith said. "He would go in the gym at 7:30 every morning and work on shooting and moving without the ball. Kwame is the only player I've ever had to threaten with being benched to make him shoot more."
As a freshman he averaged 5.6 points and 11.0 minutes, though he flourished in the NCAA tournament and led George Washington to the Sweet 16.
Last year Evans was handed the shooting guard spot, but the transition was difficult. He shot only 37.7 percent, a figure he has improved to 42.1.
"If I didn't produce as a freshman, it was no big deal," Evans said. "I didn't have anybody behind me last year, and if I didn't produce, I had to fight my way through it. Now, I think I'm better prepared to read defenses, and that's helped me get my shots [16 per game]."
Along the way, Evans has helped George Washington to the third seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament, which begins tomorrow at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
EVANS AT GW
Season ... ... ... Pts. ... ... Avg.
.. ... ... 145 .. .. .. 5.6
1993-94 .. ... ... 414 .. .. .. 13.4
1994-95 .. ... ... 594 .. .. .. 19.8
Totals ... ... ... 1,153 ... .. 13.3