With a 2-18 mark in 2011-12, there's essentially no place to go but up for the New Canaan boys basketball team and new head coach Mike Evans in 2012-13.
Evans was hired to take over for Mike Halley, who resigned from the head coaching position after a one-year stay, and sounds intent on rebuilding the Rams, who made an appearance in the Class L state tournament as recently as 2008-09, yet have struggled to a 14-46 record in the three seasons that have followed.
"I'm thinking in terms of five years and building a basketball culture. Building a basketball culture in a town of football, lacrosse and other sports is difficult," Evans said. "But the benefit is that New Canaan has a culture of competitiveness, winning and tradition. The big thing is to develop the skill levels of each player way beyond what they could have imagined."
Prior to the hiring of Evans and the one-year tenure of Halley, the New Canaan boys were led by veteran high school basketball coach Jeff Bussey, who spent 11 seasons at the helm in New Canaan.
Evans was among several applicants for the head coaching vacancy when it became available before the start of the 2011 season, and New Canaan High School athletic director Jay Egan didn't hesitate to get back in touch with Evans when the position again became available one year later.
"We had an extensive process interviewing someone to replace Jeff Bussey, and Mike (Evans) was one of the finalists," Egan said. "We were really interested in Mike Evans last year when we hired Mike Halley; it was a very close call at that point. When Halley resigned in June, we went right back to Mike Evans and didn't reopen the search. We knew we had a good person."
In an interesting twist, Evans actually believed he was meeting with Egan in 2011 for the open position of Bussey's assistant coach but was informed by Egan during the interview that Bussey had decided to retire.
"Two minutes into the interview, I realized I was interviewing for a head FCIAC job. I thought the interview process went really well last year, and I really connected in a lot of ways with Jay," Evans said. "Everything is going smoothly so far and I'm almost pinching myself."
"One year wasn't enough; ten years wouldn't be enough," Evans said of his time with Amaker. "I was lucky to get that position while getting my Master's at Harvard. Coach Amaker has a better emotional feel for his team, his players and the game overall than anyone I've ever been around."
Egan indicated that one of Evans' greatest strengths would be his ability to "create enthusiasm" for New Canaan basketball.
"The main goal that we have is just to begin to spread and create enthusiasm for basketball starting in middle school in New Canaan and show these players why they should stay with basketball," Egan said. "Mike Evans has a really good sense of what has to be done in a community like New Canaan as far as creating and maintaining enthusiasm for basketball. We have quality athletes in this town, and the program was quite competitive through Jeff Bussey's seasons."
Evans also runs a non-profit charity, Full Court Peace, to promote the game of basketball to youth players who may not otherwise be exposed to the sport in countries such as Ireland.
For the Rams, the season tips off sometime in mid-December (the official schedule will be released Oct. 11), and Evans sounds like he's counting down the days.
"The seniors have been great. The captains have been great," Evans said. "We had a meeting and now it's on to about four, five, six days a week with workouts, weight room stuff and them playing pickup games that I won't be involved in."
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