When I first met Tyreke Evans five years ago, I came away unsure that the 6-foot-6 high school sophomore could dunk.
I mean, he could dunk â€“ at his height, with natural athleticism and arms long enough to box with God, he could definitely get himself above the rim â€“ but next to the aerial showmanship of Class of 2008 peers such as DeMar DeRozan, Willie Warren, Devin Ebanks and even little Brandon Jennings, Tyreke’s arsenal of jams was like Duck Hunt compared to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. During an afternoon-long photo shoot for the cover of Dime #24, Tyreke wowed me with 30-foot jump shots. But when he was asked to dunk on camera for some mid-air shots, the letdown was jarring.
High school graduation, one-and-done in college, and a couple NBA seasons under his belt later, however, Tyreke has turned the dunk into one of his (many) ways to reaffirm the statement that he is one of the most talented young guards in the league. Ask Gary Neal of the Spurs, Kyle Korver of the Bulls, or DeSagana Diop (formerly) of the Mavs: Tyreke has learned how to make that little behind-the-rim microphone sing.
What changed? Nothing more than the realization of a plan that began before Tyreke had grown some decent facial hair.
Lamont Peterson began training Evans when the phenom was just a ninth grader. Before that, the former college football player had gained a reputation in Philadelphia basketball circles for helping turn Mustafa Shakur, Kyle Lowry and Wayne Ellington into eventual NBA players. And today, when he’s not in his home base of Sacramento working with Evans, Peterson still makes time to work with up-and-comers such as Dion Waiters (Syracuse), LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State) and Tyreek Duren (La Salle).
Peterson’s star pupil, however, remains Evans. Peterson has helped turn Evans into a 230-pound powerhouse combo guard, one of the NBA’s most physically imposing perimeter players as well as one of its most productive. After winning the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2010, Evans averaged 17.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.5 steals last season. In the Kings’ season-opening win over the Lakers on Monday, Evans put up 20 points.
A couple days before the start of Evans’ third pro season, I talked to the man partially responsible for the future of the Kings franchise:
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Dime: Some athletes have their personal strength and conditioning coach, and they have a sport-specific trainer who works with them on skills. Are you one of those to Tyreke, or both?
Lamont Peterson: It’s been strength and conditioning from Day One. When we first started working together, his goal was to go straight to the NBA from high school â€“ at the time, you could still do that â€“ and to be physically ready to make that move. That’s why his family hired me. We had a four-year plan to help ‘Reke put on weight gradually and appropriately through high school. The feeling was (that) we didn’t want anybody to say, “He’s slim” or “He needs a grown-man’s body.”
Dime: So things like ball-handling, on-court moves, shooting, that’s not you?
LP: He has all of that already. And because he’s so instinctive and reactionary with his game, he just … Well, put it this way: It’s hard to teach a phenom. ‘Reke had the skill set to go pro when he was a high school senior. As far as basketball skills, he knows what he wants to work on, so my role (during basketball drills) is to have him do those things at a faster pace so he gets in a cardio workout in addition to getting his shots up.
Dime: Originally the goal was adding muscle so Tyreke could be ready for the pros. Now that he’s a pro, does the focus of your workouts change?
LP: This summer our mindset was to stay on top of his weight. It’s not so much gaining for him now as it is maintaining: Keeping his body fat down, getting a good stretching program. He had the ankle (injury) last year, but he’s really never had a significant injury that was muscle-related.
Dime: How do the workouts change when Tyreke’s in the NBA versus high school or college? Are they longer? Less frequent? Less intense? More efficient?
LP: It’s about the same, actually. He’ll do basketball skills in the morning and strength and agility in the evening. More specifically this year, everything was cardio-based. (For strength) I’d have him alternate upper and lower-body days, doing high reps in a certain amount of time. That would be followed by cardio on the Stairmaster or an elliptical machine for 30 minutes.
Dime: How about in-season versus offseason workouts?
LP: Well, during the season he’s property of the Kings, so I don’t do anything with him during the season. You’re not lifting for gains during the season, you’re lifting for maintenance. In the offseason, our program typically goes three days a week.
Dime: Did the uncertainty of the lockout â€“ not knowing when the season would start, so not knowing when you’d want Tyreke peaking in his conditioning â€“ impact your offseason training schedule?
LP: Nope. We had actually estimated that it would not be settled, so we trained for there not being a season. Actually, on the day the lockout was settled, ‘Reke was about to sign to go to Italy. He was about to sign on the dotted line and was gonna be in Rome. This is his third year, his most important year, and he realizes that. NBA season or not, he wanted to attack this summer.
Dime: Following Tyreke over the years since his Dime cover, I’ve noticed he’s become a lot more explosive. He’s dunking on people, almost jumping over guys. How did that happen?
LP: That was always part of the blueprint, that gradually over the course of four years (starting in ninth grade) he would become more explosive. I wanted to work on every aspect of human development with ‘Reke, from weight training to having a great flexibility program to plyometrics. He was repping 225 as an 11th grader; his lower body has always been dynamic and his feet have been excellent.
And, you know, I think Tyreke gets up for his level of competition. Most of the great ones are like that. He’s always been competitive, but he wasn’t salivating to go against 5-9 point guards in high school, you know? If you look at it exponentially, in high school the best guys in your peer group are on one level, and in college that group becomes even smaller, and in the pros it’s even smaller once you get to the more elite players. So in hindsight, ‘Reke wasn’t challenged until he became a pro.
Dime: You don’t work as much with Tyreke on basketball technique, but when you see a prospect who has something unorthodox about his game â€“ in Tyreke’s case, his jump-shot form â€“ does the coach/trainer in you want to “fix” it?
LP: The rule of thumb is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If his jumper is going in, I’m not going to mess with it. In high school Tyreke was an incredible perimeter shooter, but at Memphis his percentages went down. So when he came to the Kings, (assistant coach) Pete Carrill started working with him to adjust it, from shooting behind his head to releasing in the front. So if you look at his jumper from high school to today, you’ll see a noticeable difference.
Dime: You’re around Tyreke a lot now that you’re living in Sacramento. You’ve basically watched him grow up. How has he taken to the off-court responsibilities of being a pro?
LP: It’s routine now that he’s in Year Three. He’s taken it upon himself to be more of a leader, and I really saw that focus in his workouts this summer. He is the face of the franchise, and he knows that. He wants to be in that role.
Dime: Some trainers have a basic set of principles, either in motivational style or in their training focus. What are yours?
LP: A lot of guys don’t understand the relationship, biomechanically, of their feet and how important their footwork is in every sport. That’s one thing I try to get guys to really understand: Synchronization, body movements â€“ why you move the way you move on the floor. Once they start to understand that, it helps them become better.
Dime: So the first thing you look at when you meet a player is their feet?
LP: It’s not the first thing. When I meet a player or meet their family, if somebody comes to me wanting to be trained, I want to know what their realistic goals are. Some guys are just trying to make their high school team, others are trying to get a college scholarship, others are trying to go to the NBA. I’ve worked with NBA talents, and I’ve worked with 5-9 power forwards. Just being realistic, what are your goals? What are you trying to achieve through this sport? Everyone’s not gonna be a pro.
So the first thing I do is just sit and talk with them. What’s your work ethic? So many kids today only play when they play, you know what I mean? They only practice when they have to practice. They don’t workout on their own. You can’t get the level of skill you need, the IQ and the discipline, by just going to practice and playing in the games. You have to set aside time to work on your craft: on your free throws, on your mid-range game, pulling up on one or two dribbles off the elbow. And I tend to find that the ones who end up making it, basketball is their love. Basketball is their girlfriend. They don’t get driver’s licenses until they’re sophomores and juniors in college because they’ve been all about basketball.
Dime: As an up-close Kings observer, who is one underrated guy in Sacramento you think will blow up this year?
LP: Marcus Thornton. He should’ve been a first-round pick. He wasn’t the SEC Player of the Year for no reason. He definitely flew under the radar.
Dime: What have you seen from Jimmer Fredette?
LP: He can stroke it. If you leave him open, it’s automatic.
Dime: What about DeMarcus Cousins?
LP: He’s like ‘Reke in that he’s so instinctive. He does things you can’t teach someone 6-10, 280 pounds to do. He’s fluid for his size and great offensively.
Dime: What are we going to see from Tyreke that we haven’t seen before?
LP: You’re definitely going to see an improved jump shot. But with the dynamic scorers they have on this team, I’d be looking for his points to go down. His assists are going to go up, but his scoring might go down. ‘Reke will be a better floor general because the impetus isn’t on him to score all the time. You’ve got DMC down low, you’ve got Thornton, you’ve got Jimmer, you’ve got Donte Greene and J.J. Hickson and John Salmons. You’ve got JT, Jason Thompson. Scoring is not gonna be an issue with these guys.
How much did it help Evans to be physically ready for the NBA by the time he was finished with high school?
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