Chris Eversley walks out of the away team’s locker room at Changhua County Stadium in a good mood after a hard fought overtime win. He greets the Malaysian press that made it all the way from Malaysia to Taiwan to cover the game — his season debut — with familiarity.
It had been nearly 4 years since Eversley had played with the Westports Malaysia Dragons in the ABL, but he still had a fond relationship with the fanbase as a member of the first squad in franchise history to make it to the ABL Finals.
Now he’s back once again.
“It’s been a long journey,” Eversley says. “I should have stayed here in the first place, I just wanna say that. We went to the Finals [in my] first year and came up a little short.”
Eversley then decided to take his talents to Europe — from Belgium to Germany —before making an unexpected decision.
“I actually had taken this year off,” Eversley said with his wide trademark smile. “I had retired!”
At only 26 years old, it was a surprising statement and you couldn’t tell that he had been “retired” by the way he played in his season debut, dropping 36 points on the Formosa Dreamers. Eversley did not look like he was winded. He absorbed contact and adjusted midair. He made tough shots. He played stellar defense.
In short, he certainly did not look like someone who was retired for the past year.
“I started training kids,” Eversley explains. “I love my young guys back home at Sports academy.”
“I worked with my kids every day. That’s the thing about it. I don’t just train my kids, I actually play against them, too. They’re younger, but I want them to get better. So every day I was playing with them, I was running with them, and I was staying in shape.”
Playing for the Dragons in 2014 was Eversley’s first ever professional stint, fresh out of college. He had his moments —setting then league-record with 31 points for most in a debut game was one of them — but there were also some instances where his lack of experience showed, only natural for a young player. He was a wide-eyed rookie on the team back then and that’s one of the big changes this time round.
Four years ago, there were instances where you could feel Eversley stressing out and being frustrated. In his return this time, he’s looked calmer and more mature.
“Taking this year off — or going into retirement — it gave me a chance to step back and realize that the first time I was here, I was right out of college and basketball was life or death.” Eversley says. “It was like ‘Oh, I gotta get a chance so I can eat’, but now it’s like… now I have a life at home, so I can have fun. I can relax. It’s not like ‘Oh man, I need another job’. I can actually enjoy it.”
“That time off really helped me just refocus myself.”
Though he was pleased with where he was, teaching and coaching kids to play basketball back at home, there are just some call ups you can’t refuse. Especially when it’s from somewhere close to the heart as Malaysia is to him.
“So the GM [of the Dragons] called me and told me the team was making a playoff push,” Eversley recalls. “He said he loved not only the way how I played but how I worked with the locals.”
“It’s definitely good to come back home, that’s what I call it.”
You can feel what Eversley means when he says “it’s good to come back home” seeing him interact with the Dragons’ local players, especially guys like Wong Yi Hou and Kuek Tian Yuan who were also on the 2014 Finals team.
They have their inside jokes and tease each other around as Eversley radiates a “big brother” vibe. Most importantly alongside the brotherly banter is Eversley’s willingness and dedication to be a mentor to these young guys.
“I’ve known the little guys — I wouldn’t say little but the younger guys — and I’ve known them since they were juniors.”
Before games, you will see Eversley warming up with the younger guards. Heng Yee Yong, Teo Kok Hou, Wong Yi Hou and Eversley himself will take turns dribbling at each other and defending one another from side court to side court.
It’s clearly a simple workout for Eversley, but he makes sure go at it aggressively to set an example for the younger guys.
“[The mentorship role] is actually a huge part [in me coming back],” Eversley says. “I was working with young kids, all the day, every day, whether we’re working on basketball or if I have guys who I work with in keeping them on their schoolwork. So that mentorship role here is huge for me deciding to come back.”
“Even with the guys that I don’t know like Kok Hou and YT [Heng Yee Tong] and Phan [Wee Chen], all of them. It’s good to be able to transfer that from home and come back.”
“And the most important thing is that these guys listen. They want to learn. They want that ‘American’ experience and that’s part of the reason why I’m here. It’s to bring that back to them.”
One of the reasons the Dragons signed (or re-signed) Chris Eversley was for his all-around talent as a forward. He can shoot, he can leap over almost everybody, he’s quick enough to defend guards and strong enough to hold back forwards. But more than that — more than his contribution on the court — is how the Dragons envision he can help with the continuous growth of their local players.
Who better than Eversley to be a part of that development? Who better than someone who has seen the progress that Yi Hou and Kuek has made throughout the years?
“I think they’ve definitely made strides,” Eversley says. “Even though they’re not the most physically imposing guys, it’s good to see that they’ve improved something, Whether it’s their shots, how they’ve worked on their finishes, or playing through contact.”
“The one thing I will say about them that you saw tonight is the mental toughness. You know? Like Yi Hou stepping in playing the 4 at the end of the game is like — that’s huge.”
“Years ago, I dunno if he was gonna be able to do that. Just the mental toughness.”
“They’re maturing not only as players but as young men and that’s what we want to see.”
Eversley bids farewell as he leaves to join the team on their trip back from the venue. He is immediately joined with Yi Hou and both pick up their phones to play around with their Instagram Stories.
Both are still just fun-loving young souls, enjoying the game of basketball. And they’ve also helped each other grow as well. Playing with Yi Hou and the Dragons was the first step to opening up the eyes of Chris Eversley to what he wants in life.
Now in return, Eversley is ready to help Yi Hou — and the Dragons — make their own strides towards a brighter future.