John Hobbs spoke to Evaldas Zabas at the Worthing Leisure Centre after a Worthing Thunder practice session on Wednesday 09/12/2009. It was a story that left the Worcester Wolves franchise on the floor, knocked-out. Despite the team rebuilding and bringing in a new coach in Paul James – their 2009/10 season will always be remembered for the comments made by former coach, Chuck Evans during a game review session.
Six players went on what was rumoured to be a players strike, one of those players is now Worthing Thunder’s newest acquisition, Evaldas Zabas. A guard from Lithuania who spoke to Talkbasket.net for the first time publicly about the racist comments made by Evans during the tape review session, and consequently move to the south-coast to join Dave Titmuss and Worthing.
“I thought it was going to be another video session like it normally was.” Zabas said, continuing: “it was the last thing I thought he would get up and say and from there, my mouth dropped and I instantly just lost respect for the guy – I mean, how can you say those things when we are all here trying to win games for you and. So when he said all that I just put my hoodie up and listened to my music.”
It was a story that surprised and shocked the community of the British Basketball League. Chuck Evans, Atlanta born was an ex-Worcester player himself two seasons previous and before that, a veteran of the German League, where he gained dual citizenship in his years playing for Leverkusen and ALBA Berlin. He somewhat struggled to adapt to life as a coach in the BBL – winning four of his first eleven games [in all competitions].
“It was the highest level of disrespect that humans can reach, it was humiliating and I feel disgraced that he said what he said.” Zabas ended saying. But despite the words said from different people on message boards and the different press releases sent out, the Lithuanian guard states that the players that went on strike still wanted to play for the Worcester Wolves franchise.
Zabas explained: “At first we said we don’t want to play for the coach, but we want to play for the Worcester Wolves club, but management took that wrong and they thought because we don’t want the coach, we don’t want to play for them either, but we never said that, we would love to play for the Worcester Wolves but for the program – not the coach.”
The guard did have fond moments at the university based club though. Zabas has built a friendship with his ex-team-mates and was overwhelmed by how passionate the fans are about their basketball – saying: “In general the people were very nice. The program they have combining the university and the team is amazing and eventhough the gym was small, when filled with people, the atmosphere was incredible.” he continued: “It was great when people walked by and said hi and said things like good game and reading newspapers and getting recognised and that was most memorable.”
Despite what has happened, Evaldas is looking forward to his debut in Worthing and is looking forward to playing under coach, Dave Titmuss. “Dave has been in the game for a long time and he knows what he is doing. When you walk into his practice, he knows what he wants next, he knows what he wants to do with the players and he tells players what to do, yet at the same time, he gives them so much freedom to play” Zabas said, detailing the training session he just had with Titmuss.
Evaldas had also tried out at Merseyside club, Everton Tigers – but after thinking it through and seeing which style of basketball he felt suited to, Worthing’s fast paced, aggressive style made his choice easier.
“I just want to carry on playing, that’s all I want.” Zabas stated – whilst saying: I just want to go home and see my family and come back here in January and start fresh and move on, because I’m too young for this – I just want to hoop, that’s all I want to do.”
The twenty-one year olds arrival means the competition for places at both guard spots becomes intense and for the fans in Worthing, exciting. With current point guard, Sharrad Prezzie-Blue in great form following his wrist injury and Reggie Bratton is firing on all cylinders as well. This could mean a lack of minutes for the back up guards, such as Daniel Hildreth and James Brame, who have been loyal not only to Worthing, but to the entire county of Sussex – and they will not be giving up their place easily.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net (Exclusive first interview)