When Jacob Evans III first discovered the water was rising, he was at his best friend’s house, playing video games. It was August of 2016, his first summer back home in Baton Rouge, La., since heading to Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship. He and his best friend — Keidrick Stewart — began walking. Heavy rains and a busted levee had produced a 100-year flood in Baton Rouge. At first, the water was at the pair’s ankles, then it rose to their calves and then knees. By the time Evans and Stewart had walked nearly two miles, the water was at his waist. His home, miraculously, remained on a dry island in the middle of his neighborhood.
“A lot of my family and friends, they lost everything,” Evans, the No. 28 pick in last week’s NBA Draft, said during his introductory press conference with the Golden State Warriors on Monday. “That kind of set it in that you could lose everything in one, literally a couple minutes … I don’t take this game for granted, I’m blessed to be able to have the body I have, and to play the game that I love, especially at a high level … Seeing the devastation around the whole city of Baton Rouge, just pushed me a little harder.”
Evans wasn’t a five-star, one-and-done prospect. He didn’t go to a powerhouse program — the Bearcats won a program-record 31 games during his junior year, and even then, only made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The NBA wasn’t something Evans had even thought about until the summer of the flood, but his ferocity and tenacity was something the Warriors had seen before. In Draymond Green.
“This is a kid who will run through a brick wall for you,” said Evans’s childhood coach and family friend Chris Ferguson. “He may be hurt, it may hurt him, but he’ll do it, and then he’ll ask you why.”
The day before the draft, Evans went through his second workout with Golden State. The Warriors scouting staff had already seen Evans multiple times, and general manager Bob Myers had seen him once in a blowout win, where he played through a finger injury. He worked out the day of the Warriors’ championship parade, and watched it go by as he stood outside his hotel. Green, a regular throughout most draft evaluation workouts, hadn’t been at that first run, but when Evans returned to the Bay Area for a second time, Green was there, watching on the sideline.
“Draymond saying this kid knows how to play, that’s a compliment, a pretty high compliment,” said general manager Bob Myers. “He was saying things like that … He does have a pretty good eye for players, and the type of player that he thinks fits our culture, which I know is surprising to think, but is physical, tough, fighter, a guy who’ll grind it out.”
Before the draft, Myers had said they’d be lucky if they could get another Draymond. What they got was the son of a working mother and former Grambling State point guard in Theresa Chatman-Evans, who raised Jacob and his two brothers — DeMarquis and Devin — by herself.
“She never told me I had to work hard for what I wanted,” Jacob said. “I saw it.”
With Chatman-Evans working 12-hour shifts as the director of a daycare, at first it was Devin who took care of young Jacob. After Devin joined the military, that job fell to DeMarquis — seven years Jacob’s senior.
“He sacrificed the majority of his life just to help raising me, whether it was picking me up from school, taking me to school, picking me up from practice, making sure I wasn’t acting up in school and making sure I was respectful to my mom and everything,” Evans said. “Their support has been a major key for me to get here. I could never pay them back, as much as I want to.”
On nights DeMarquis would pick Jacob up from practice, he noted that even though practice would end at 7:30 or 7:45, Jacob would stay in the gym and keep working for an hour or more after everyone else left. After Cincinnati assistant Larry Davis saw Evans and his AAU team play in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 2014, he told head coach Mick Cronin to make him a priority.
After Evans signed with the Bearcats, Cronin told Chatman-Evans and her youngest son that he could develop into a first-round draft pick. With the help of strength coach Mike Rehfeldt, Evans cut out high-sugar foods and anything fried. He ate more vegetables and fruits. He re-made his body. His 6-foot-9 wingspan and 35 1/2-inch vertical leap allowed him to defend multiple positions laterally and even defend the rim. He prided himself on doing all the little things — fighting through screens, pressuring the ball — that don’t show up on a stat sheet that help a team win. Sound familiar?
“Growing up, I just tried to learn as much as I can about the game,” Evans said. “I feel like if you’re the smartest person on the court, you’re the most dangerous person.” The night of the draft, DeMarquis stood next to his little brother and saw his phone ring. The caller ID read ‘Steve Kerr.’ He answered the phone and walked outside. By the time he came back in, his name flashed across the television screen, and Kerr had handed the phone to one of Evans’s future teammates. They would need him to play right away, and he had to be ready.
“I get on the phone, I’m like, ‘Hello?’ It’s Draymond,” Evans said. “He’s just saying how excited they are for me to get here, and he’s going to be on my butt from Day One. I expect nothing less from him. I’m excited to get things going, and get this thing started.”