August 13, 2018
Each summer for the last five years, Tyreke Evans has been returning to his hometown of Chester to give back to an underserved community that is much in need of any help it can get.
This year, however, must feel different.
For the 28-year old point guard, who signed with the Indiana Pacers in free agency last month, the return home was met with a stark reminder of the violent world he left behind.
Less than a year ago, not long after hosting his Tyreke Evans Camp at Chester High, one of the campers, 15-year-old Ronald Lundy, was tragically gunned down in a drive-by shooting on his way home from school. Lundy was one of three teens shot in the attack and was not the intended target of those bullets. Nevertheless, the promising young talent was, as Evans and many others have said, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But Lundy was more than just some kid who stood out during the camp. He was also Evans' cousin.
Murders, unfortunately, are all all too common in Chester, which has one of the highest violent crime rates in America and was identified by the White House as one of the six cities in the nation that needs the most help under its Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative.
And it still needs more.
Evans, who grew up on those streets, knows this all too well. It's why he's been giving back for years. And it's why the loss of his cousin last year only furthered his drive to give back to those hoping to do what he's done — make it out alive.
Over the weekend, Evans was back in Chester for his annual (free) camp, which hosted 160 campers from fourth through 12th grades and provided backpacks filled with school supplies. He was also kind enough to speak with PhillyVoice about why he feels this is so important and how the loss of his cousin changed his outlook. The one-time NBA Rookie of the Year talked about some of his favorite spots to go when he's in town and whether or not he heard from the Sixers in free agency.
PhillyVoice: What made you want to start giving back in this way.
Tyreke Evans: "Man, especially in my home town, I just always wanted to do a camp for the kids, and give them something to do. Being from there, growing up, I never had the opportunity to go to a camp like this in my home town. So, getting a chance to do this, and do it for the kids a good thing; it's something I've always wanted to do."
What's the best part of it for you?
"When I'm there, just interacting with the kids, during the drills, going station to station. Then they play five-on-five at the end of the camp and I get out there and play with them and everything like that. After that, the Q&A — some of them are shy, but some have questions and I'm willing to answer any questions they have."
Have you gotten any funny questions from the kids?
"They're all basketball related, pretty much. What was my first time in the NBA like and things like that. What is like in the NBA? What's it like in college — and when I was in college, what did it take to get to the next level?"
Did you ever have a player at your camp that blew you away with his talent?
"Definitely. Some of my friends know some of the kids from Chester — that's my area — so just watching them play and then [my friends] tell me what they've been doing in the games around Chester and playing AAU. [They tell me], 'That kid can be next.' And I can definitely see some potential in the kids, just watching them play, you can see talent where you're like, 'OK, this little kid's got game.'"
Can you tell me a little more about losing your cousin to gun violence last year, about a month after he attended your camp?
"Yeah, it was a tragic moment for the family. And knowing that he was just at the camp — and so was his older brother, Jah'mye [Evans] — it's a terrible loss. [The bullet] wasn't meant for him. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. As a family, we just wish that it was different. But it happened. It was really tough at first, especially for Jah'mye, not having his younger brother, he played basketball too. I talk to Jah'mye a little bit, he's still focused on basketball. I just told him to keep his head up and keep working hard."
Did that help re-focus you on any of the things you're trying to accomplish with this camp?
"Yeah, definitely. I know Chester from being there when I was younger. And with where I'm at now, I've got to take every opportunity I can to do something where I can get back and help with the community as much as possible. I'm trying to help show the kids a way off the streets, talking to them and being positive with them. Hopefully they listen to what I have to say and they take that and try to be successful and get out."
I know you're trying to set the path for the next generation, but what is it like being a part of the brotherhood of Philly basketball stars. There's been a ton of great players from here.
"It just shows the hard work that I've put in. And the help from my friends and brothers. Being in the gym working out twice a day, putting in the work. Being humble and staying focused. Because when I was younger, it was definitely tough to just focus on basketball. There were a lot of people around who could just take you out of basketball and having you doing something that gets you in a lot of trouble. With my friends and family around me and the support they gave me, it helped a lot. I just took it from there and let my game speak for myself."
You've got a new team this year. Are you looking forward to playing in Indiana this season?
"I'm definitely looking forward to this season. I went out there for two weeks, just to get to know the trainers and the coaching staff. Worked out with some of the guys there, some of the young guys. ... I was there for two weeks working out with them. Coach is excited about the work I was doing and excited to have me. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a good year for us."
After spending your whole career out West, you're in the East this year. That means more games in Philly. Where are you going to be taking your teammates when you come to town?
"It's definitely going to be different for me after being in the west, but usually when I come to Philly, I take the guys to South Street. You know, get some Ishkabibble's and get a chicken cheesesteak and just head out from there. Philly's got a lot of unique places to go to get food. When we came from the West Coast, we'd get there at night or in the evening and then had to play and fly out. Playing in Indiana, I'll be there more and should have more time."
Did the Sixers reach out to you in free agency at all?
"No, I did not hear from the Sixers in free agency. I know that during the trade deadline, they wanted me. But they were probably looking for something else in free agency. I don't really know what they were doing over there but I definitely didn't hear from them."
Is that something you'd want to do? Playing for your hometown?
"I mean, definitely. Just as far as me being from where I'm from and watching Allen Iverson play every night, it would definitely be a dream to go there and play in front of my family. Whatever happens, happens. But if I ever get a chance to, I would definitely love that opportunity."
Was Iverson your favorite growing up?
"One of them. Just the heart he had, just going out there every night and giving his all for the fans. If you weren't watching Comcast when the Sixers played, then you hated watching basketball."
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