It’s basketball card season at the Roth Compound right now. That is, it’s the time of year when Topps starts assigning me batches of basketball card subjects, which I then turn into highly collectible pieces of glossy cardboard. Those of you who’ve seen those dramatically-scored Topps TV commercials — still photos of me looking progressively more exasperated in front of my computer while the words “Where Trying Not To Make Derrick Caracter Sound Like A Butthead Happens” are superimposed over my pale, sallow face — already knew about this.
While there are some challenges to the job, I like it. In part because it’s an interesting test of my writing skills (can I make it sound like I think Joe Crawford will be a good pro? I don’t know!), but also because it introduces me to a bunch of prospects I didn’t know much about. While plenty of people declare for the draft with no chance of being selected, there are still a few guys I don’t know about who seem like either interesting prospects or just plain interesting stories. My favorite so far is Keith Brumbaugh, a 22-year old forward who was Florida’s Mr. Basketball in 2005 and has been arrested six times since then (and perhaps more astonishingly, actually kicked out of Oklahoma State) during his well-traveled career.
What will become of Brumbaugh probably has more to do with how he plays at the Orlando pre-draft camp later this month than it does with his past arrest record. But while I’ll be following his fate (and not just because I’ll have to write something like 20 slightly different cards for him if he makes it), I’m more eager to see Tyree Evans, a prospect of Brumbaugh-esque promise who will be attending Maryland next year as a 23-year old junior. As the increasingly great Luke Winn explains in Sports Illustrated — it was current when Brendan Flynn sent it to me last week — Evans’ unusually advanced age for a junior isn’t because he was on a Mormon mission somewhere. We join the story three years after Evans plead down on a statutory rape charge at Massachusetts Winchendon School as a prep senior and two years after he was declined admission at Cincinnati, where he was (yes) a Bob Huggins recruit.
[In 2007] Evans served a brief stint in Richmond City Jail as a result of an Aug. 26, 2005, arrest on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, according to court records obtained last week by SI.com. According to the documents and a source close to the situation, Evans was arrested during a traffic stop with more than one-half ounce of marijuana in individually wrapped bags, as well as a digital scale containing drug residue in the trunk of his car.
The initial felony charge of possession with intent to distribute near school property was plead down to misdemeanor possession with intent to distribute (less than one-half ounce) on June 14, 2007, and Evans received a 12-month jail sentence, with 11 months suspended pending good behavior and community service obligations. (On the same day that he was released from a jail that he called “the worst place in the world,” Evans played in a Tri-City summer league contest in Richmond, and on July 19 appeared in the league’s championship, which his team lost to a squad featuring Cleveland Cavaliers forward Ben Wallace.)
Evans told SI.com that Maryland’s basketball staff was aware of his time behind bars — “They know all about my past, and as long as it wasn’t a felony, it was OK,” he said. But Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow, when reached last Friday, said that while Williams had worked through the Academic Committee of the University Athletics Council to secure Evans’ admission, Yow had not been informed of Evans’ incarceration. “I was aware of a misdemeanor [marijuana] charge — that’s it,” she said.
…Clearly Evans needs to thrive at Maryland to reach his dream of playing professional basketball, but does Maryland need him badly enough to justify the risk? The Terrapins ranked 219th in the nation in three-point percentage (33.8) last season, when they went 19-15 and were relegated to the NIT. And Williams has had some success with junior-college projects, particularly Steve Francis and current senior Bambale Osby, another Richmond product — but none of the Terps’ previous juco transfers have had criminal histories like Evans’. His commitment in April sparked spirited debate amongst Maryland fans on the TurtleSportsReport.com message boards, with the tone of user posts ranging from, “Our on-the-court problems are way too embarrassing right now to worry about off-the-court problems,” to the flip-side, stating that a scholarship offer to Evans “seems like a copout by [Williams], one that tarnishes our university’s reputation.”
Whether Evans makes it or not — scout Bob Gibbons’ assessment of him as “someone who has never been socially able to conform to rules and regulations” seems kind of right on — the piece is an interesting example both of how D1 sausage gets made, and of the consistently good reporting and writing Winn does over at SI. “Winn is now killing other CBB writers in actually doing some investigative reporting,” Brendan writes. “Not just reporting on press releases from Sports Information Directors or engaging in mindless debates about RPI nonsense.”