Kids Gain Sport, Life Skills at Evans' Free Clinic
by BRIAN ACHATZ , bachatz@pnj.com

With schools out for Presidents Day, free time was in abundance for students Monday, but former NBA star Reggie Evans and West Florida Baptist Academy boys basketball coach Joey Vara were adamant on not letting the idle time go to waste.

Evans and Vara, and members of their teams — Team Evans, Reggie Evans Foundation, and Vision Hoops — put on a free basketball clinic Monday at West Florida Baptist, where more than 100 elementary and high school athletes attended.

"For me, it's all about finding the right talent. Not necessarily on the court ... but looking for people with a lot of heart," Evans said. "A lot of the stuff (Team Evans does) is from the heart. It takes a lot of patience and you've gotta have a lot of love for the game of basketball.

"(Monday's clinic) had a great turnout. We got to show (Vara) and a lot of players and coaches how we do things. We plan a lot of the stuff, but we also go off the head. Coach Avery (Mosley, director of the Evans Foundation) runs most of the drills. We are good at brainstorming and thinking of things on the fly when we have to. We knew a lot of kids would show up, but we weren't sure if we would get more with the younger group (third-sixth grade) or the older (seventh-12th). We had a nice crowd the first session ... but in the second session, we were like: 'Oh man, we've got a lot of kids here.' It was awesome."

The clinic had competition, plenty of fun and boiled down to a life lesson at the event's conclusion.

The life lesson and inspirational story?

A chronological recap of Evans' career from his youth playing days to his illustrious NBA career.

Michael Dimick — Pensacola State College basketball assistant coach and a high-school friend of Evans — delivered the speech, touching on the adversity Evans faced. Whether it was his family's financial struggles as a child in Pensacola, the way Evans continued to work his way from junior college to Division I basketball at Iowa State and finally, Evans' perseverance to land an NBA contract despite not having his named called in the draft — Dimick provided a strong example of the importance of hard work.

"That really brought it all together at the end," Vara said. "Dimick talked about how (Evans) could have gone in so many bad directions when things weren't going his way ... but he kept working for his dreams. I thought it was a great testimony to the kids. Things might not go your way, but you've gotta keep fighting and working. I loved that and I wanted the kids to hear that. At the end of the day, our main  goal is to help people and help basketball players. That's what these kids need and I feel like that is what they got. We were just happy to open our doors to (Team Evans) and let them do their thing. I think we were all able to learn something."

Evans' passion for basketball is obvious, but his ties to his community and drive to grow the sport and exposure of local athletes is remarkable.

With the start of his AAU club Team Evans, Evans met Vara (who also hosts youth league in which Evans' son played) and discovered the two share a passion for helping basketball players reach the collegiate level.

"I try to surround myself with people who have a lot of love for the sport of basketball," Evans said. "With coach Vara right down the road from Pensacola (in Milton) and to have a caliber of coach that close to us, it was only right for us to do something (at West Florida Baptist). He's almost like an extended brother. It's easy to work with someone when you both have the same goal. What makes work hard is when people have their own different agendas.

"It was wonderful."