It was a sunny afternoon in the heart of Kuala Lumpur as I waited for Chris Eversley in a bustling restaurant just downstairs from his apartment. As soon as reached me, I was greeted by his usual big smile that basically spoke for itself, showing just how friendly he is as a professional basketball player.
I reached into my bag and immediately showed him a picture the two of us took just a few years back during his finals series. While I was a big fan of coach Ariel Vanguardia, Chris and I laughed and both agreed that the picture represented the beginnings of a larger love for basketball, especially in our region.
I do admit it was my fault for setting my interview with him at such a busy restaurant, especially during lunch hour (yea, I know, rookie mistake), but what followed is a testament to Eversley’s character right before we started the session.
“You know what? Let’s go to my apartment’s lobby. It’s quiet over there! It would be easier for you afterwards,” suggested Chris.
A boom right off the bat. He led me to his apartment where we I bombarded him with questions, all of which he answered with no shortcomings in enthusiasm. To me, as a basketball fan, it always feels good to see old faces around, especially those whom we didn’t have a chance to formally say goodbye to.
“It was a lot of fun and that was the most important thing,” he would say when asked about his last experience in Kuala Lumpur, back when he was still a rookie in the professional scene.
“It’s weird because I was contacted during a Monday and left on a Wednesday that time, so it was a huge turnaround right after graduation.”
“NOW I’M MORE APPRECIATIVE OF WHAT I HAD AND HAVE HERE. THE EXPERIENCE IN EUROPE TAUGHT ME TO LIVE IN THE MOMENT BECAUSE NOT EVERY TEAM TREATED PLAYERS LIKE HOW DRAGONS DO.”
Sometimes, fans don’t realize what actually goes on in the life of a professional player. They get a call from their agent about an overseas opportunity, and the next thing they know, they’re stuffing their belongings into a bag of luggage and heading off to an airport right away. It’s all about the opportunity to showcase your talent in a competitive market, and you have to be serious about yourself and your career.
One week, Chris was still celebrating his graduation with family and friends, and the next week, he was on a plane to a whole new country that he barely knew anything about. You could only begin imagining the difficulties in transitioning from a college player straight to a professional player playing abroad. It’s not easy, both mentally and physically.
“I took it for granted last time because I had so many things going on back at home. Now I’m more appreciative of what I had and have here. The experience in Europe taught me to live in the moment because not every team treated their players like how the Dragons do.”
It’s no secret that the professional basketball scene is extremely competitive, not only on the court, but also the internally within an organization, every player on a roster is trying their best to earn themselves routine playing time, cases where politics can get involved. Playing in a Europe, the demand for more than just a player’s on court performance can be even more stressful than just the blood, sweat, and tears exhumed on the hardwood.
After his first professional stop in Malaysia, he continued his career in Belgium and Germany, where he experienced higher levels of basketball, and the pressure that came along with it. Mentally, it was a challenge for him as a player because he just wanted to play basketball.
It’s as simple as that.
“It opened my eyes when I came back home from Germany. I told myself, if I’m not going back to Asia, specifically, Kuala Lumpur, I will just stop playing.”
It’s hard to imagine that a young 26-year-old athlete who is just beginning to enter his prime could throw out such drastic words, especially in a materialistic world where money reigns supreme, but, Eversley further validated his motive, adding, “I rather have fun than be miserable 10 months out of the year.”
Regardless of the tough situations in which he found himself in back in Belgium and Germany, Chris remained as the friendly character on his team which helped forge special friendships within. One of those whom he befriended just so happens to be a well-known figure in ABL, averaging a near triple-double for the season.
“ONE REASON I CAME BACK IS JUST NOT TO PLAY, BUT ALSO TO LEAD THE YOUNG PLAYERS. I WAS PAID TO COACH, SO I WANT TO USE WHAT I LEARNED TO HELP THEM GROW.”
“He is someone that was very influential to me in Belgium just because of the fact that he had been the process a lot. [Anthony] Tucker was somebody who plays his role well, [even though] he came in a little late during the season, but we bonded a lot. So it was good to have somebody else out there who understands what was going on.”
Fans may not know this, but both Eversley and Tucker played together in Belgium for the Kangaroos Basket Willebroek. At the time, Tucker was more experienced, taking the mentor’s role in helping guide Eversley, which is something that the latter felt extremely grateful for, even as both have moved forward in their careers.
Though he has been through some rough and unpleasant times during his journey in Europe, it taught him some lessons throughout his professional path. With such sweet and sour experiences since he departed from Malaysia, Eversley has come back with more confidence and a greater objective.
“One reason I came back here is just not to play, but also to lead the young players. I was paid to coach, so I want to use what I learned to help them grow. I don’t want people to make the same mistakes I did, so that is why coming back here is huge for me.”
It is almost a completely different roster in his second go-around, but friendly faces in Kuek Tian Yuan and Wong Yi Hou still remain on the team, which helped ease his transition into the current team when he arrived just three weeks ago. Even though his aforementioned familiar-looking teammates don’t speak English very well, they do have finals experience, and that sort of bond is more than enough in any professional setting.
PHOTO CREDIT: NORMAN GOH / FACEBOOK
In fact, Kuek, Yi Hou, and John introduced their old buddy to his new teammates, breaking any kind of initial ice between locals and imports. It didn’t take long for all members of the Dragons to begin treating each other as a big family, which is a crucial factor in why the team has been playing with more swagger and fire in their recent winning streak.
During the last two seasons, Kuek has been an important piece on the team, especially during their championship season, getting himself more comfortable as an outside shooter and better utilizing his length. On the other hand, Yi Hou contrinues to grow game-by-game since his debut season four years ago, and Eversley is proud of the progress that his old teammates have worked on since he left.
“Kuek is obviously an improved shooter. He is shooting somewhere around 45 percent this year. That is a big improvement actually. He has matured not only as a player, but as a man who is about to marry someone.”
Judging solely off of ABL statistics, Kuek has indeed risen and improved in just about every category this season, proving himself to be a great fit for a young Dragons squad.
“I ALWAYS VIEW KUALA LUMPUR AS HOME. FOR ME, PERSONALLY, BECAUSE IT WAS MY FIRST JOB AND I MADE A LOT OF GOOD MEMORIES HERE WITH ALL MY TEAMMATES AND COACHING STAFF.”
Turning to talk about Yi Hou, Eversley starts with, “Yi Hou is still Yi Hou man,” as we both laughed since we both know the young gun continues to be his usual self despite his steady and reliable performance in Malaysia’s domestic basketball scene.
“Even though he is 21 now, I still look at him like my 17-year-old brother. I’m just glad to see him grow as much as Kuek, and he is someone I will take under my wings because I want him to be the best that he can be.”
After sharing his thoughts on Yi Hou, he moves on to crediting team captain John, who is doing an amazing job in taking care of him along with the other Dragons imports since their arrivals.
“John was a veteran when I came in and now he is still one on the team. I think the most important thing John brings to this team is leadership and mentorship that is valuable off the court.” Chris follows it up by giving a few examples on how the captain has led the team, citing how he gathers all the members after practice and showing how those little things matter on any professional team in any country.
As soon as they had their first training session together as a team, Chris knew that the team was looking and continues to push for a playoff run, though many may deem it impossible. He is well aware of the doubters and fans just fans in general who don’t believe in them, with some even mocking their goals along the way.
But look at the Dragons now.
They are currently on a nice two game winning streak, bringing great momentum with them into their next game in Saigon. It’s going to be a dogfight for both teams with the last playoff spot essentially on the line between the two teams, but don’t count the Dragons out just yet. As the great Nelson Mandela once said:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Since Eversley is familiar with the league and played a part in sending the Heat packing during his debut season, he is no stranger to the hostile CIS Arena.
“I’m looking forward to playing the Heat. I’m honestly telling you this. I love playing against Saigon in Saigon. I just love the environment because the fans out make the games great.”
Aside from the teams that are on the schedule within the month, he is also excited in the personal matchups with a few of the big names around the regional league.
“I would love to play against Standhardinger, Brownlee, and Singletary. These are the really good forwards in our league that are playing for really good teams, so at the end of the day, they are like measuring sticks for us to compare both individually and collectively as a team.”
With their most recent win against mighty Alab Pilipinas, Chris certainly relished in the victory as his match-up against the soft spoken Brownlee, dropping 38 points and grabbing six boards.
He is also excited to play against the defending champions at MABA Stadium, expecting a battle with a college rival again after so long.
“I used to play against Standhardinger back in college. We have been going at each other since then, so I’m excited to see him againt.”
Ever since his arrival to the team, players seem more united than ever, similar to the last two seasons when coach Ariel Vanguardia was at the helm here in Malaysia. During the last part of our interview, Chris openly shared his thoughts and plans about playing for the Dragons.
“I always view Kuala Lumpur as home. For me, personally, because it was my first job and I made a lot of good memories here with all my teammates and coaching staff. I love it here in terms of the lifestyle and people are genuinely nice. If you go to most other countries, it’s very different, so I always call Kuala Lumpur as home, and I wish I can spend many years here. That would be something ideal for me personally.”
Sometimes, it’s not always about the money or any other materialistic belongings that matter to some players, but rather, the warm feeling and brotherhood within a team at counts more. Eversley made it crystal clear that he is willing to stay with the Dragons as long as both parties have mutual interest.
“WE HAVE A HUGE GAP TO CLOSE WITHIN OUR REGION, AND I WANT TO BE PART OF THIS AS A MALAYSIAN.”
“It was obviously great that we got into the final last time, but we fell short, so I’m definitely looking forward to bringing a championship back within another few seasons here in Kuala Lumpur,” says Chris with a firm desire.
First, it’s about the Dragons. Then it’s about Malaysia basketball as a whole in what he has drafted for his master plan for the country. He is hoping that he can share his knowledge and resources to build and help structure the fundamentals of Malaysian basketball. When one of your team’s imports is already putting effort in planning out what he would want to do to help locals, you know this guy puts pride into the flag imprinted on the front of his game jerseys.
“We have a huge gap to close within our region, and I want to be part of this as a Malaysian.”
From the interview with Chris, I can honestly feel his humbleness as well as passion for basketball, not just as a player, but as a Malaysian who is representing Westports Malaysia Dragons. A man who was once shaky after his professional stint in Germany, he decided to hang up his jersey and retire. Mane of his friends talked to him, telling him not to rush the decision, but Eversley had presumptively made up his mind, but since then, he has had a change of heart, shifting gears into a coach skills development coach.
Thankfully, the change of route quickly revitalized his mind and heart with love for basketball. His story helped me better understand that basketball is supposed to be fun and everyone should be enjoying the game.
“The past year, working with the kids, training them kind of reignited my passion and love for basketball,” closes Chris.
“I taught my kids that sharing misery is more important than sharing joy. You’ve got to have been through all the miseries before every joy.”
It’s always easy to get people to join in when you are winning, but to suffer the tough losses and questionable decisions are the kind of miseries that you need in order to be successful. Chris seems more ready than ever in his homecoming run. As a fan and friend of his, I most certainly hope to see him hanging around in Kuala Lumpur the next few years.