The end of July will mark a voyage into unfamiliar territory for two members of the New Canaan High School boys basketball team.
"When we're in Cuba, I look forward to helping out all the people there," Mills said. "It's going to be interesting just because it's a completely different culture that we're kind of sheltered from because of the whole political issues. It will be cool to mix with the people down there, help them out and it's just going to be a lot of fun."
While in Cuba, DeWaele, Mills and Evans will participate in a number of projects designed to strengthen the basketball community.
"Basically, we go down and we find a new basketball community and we look at their basketball court," said Evans, who founded Full Court Peace while living in Northern Ireland after college in 2005. "One hoop is just a pole, the other side has a rim hanging down with no net and there's no paint on the court. When we leave, it's two sturdy hoops, two rims, nets, a freshly painted court and everyone has jerseys to run their own league."
While DeWaele and Mills are making their rookie voyage to Cuba, Evans is a veteran.
"Cubans are fantastic athletes. There are good coaches down there, but they just lack the physical facilities, and that's what we try to give them along with the equipment that we need. An 18-year-old down there would be one of the best athletes in the FCIAC," said Evans, who is making his fifth trip to Cuba. "There's a lot of grit and tough work to fix the court. It's Americans and Cubans working together, so there's obviously symbolism there. At the end of the week, we play those Cubans in a tournament. We've never won a championship and we've had some Division-I players go down there."
When offered the chance by their coach, DeWaele and Mills weren't about to say "no," and both sound particularly intrigued by the prospects of building up some damaged courts and perhaps even coaching some of the Cuban youth players.
"I would hope I can teach a little, but apparently they've got some good talent and they're already pretty good at basketball. I'm definitely excited. It sounds like a great opportunity and I'm looking forward to it," DeWaele said. "I'm really looking forward to playing with the people from the area, and it will also be fun to build basketball courts and help out in any way possible."
Despite their enthusiasm, both New Canaan High School seniors are well aware that a trip to Cuba is likely to be anything but predictable.
"People have been telling me `you can't go to Cuba,'" Mills said with a laugh. "(Evans) said it's kind of tricky because he told me a story about when he got detained in the whole process. I was thinking that this will definitely be something I'll be able to tell people about."
"It's definitely going to be interesting," DeWaele said. "I don't know much about the country at all, and I'm pretty excited to go to a place that you never really would have access to."
Prior to their trip, DeWaele and Mills will participate in "Free throws for Full Court Peace" in which both will attempt 100 free throws to raise money for the charity. Anyone may pledge any amount of money for every successful free throw attempt. The event takes place on Sunday, April 7 at New Canaan High School at noon, and pledges may be made via email at email@example.com.
"Before they shoot, they're going to ask for nominal amounts of money for each one they make," Evans said. "Anyone can sign up to pledge for every one that they make out of 100. They'll be doing this April 7, which is the Sunday between the Final Four and the championship."
DeWaele, Mills and the rest of the Rams were part of a strong turnaround campaign this past season, which saw them go from one win in 2011-12 to six wins in 2012-13.
"This was my first year on the high school basketball team. It was funny timing how the first year I come into the program it was going through changes, so it was awesome to be a part of reviving the basketball culture here," Mills said. "It's something I'm definitely going to remember for a long time. The younger guys definitely have the potential to keep it going. It'll be nice to see it continue to evolve."
Although they fell just two wins shy of the team goal to make the state tournament, DaWaele and Mills indicated that they felt good about being able to contribute to the team's rapid improvement, and both spoke optimistically about the future of the program.
"We didn't make states, but it was just a whole different feel this past season," DeWaele said. "There was definitely a change in the basketball culture here. (The underclassmen) definitely have the talent to do very well."
In addition to Cuba, Evans has also made several Full Court Peace trips to Juarez, Mexico to "create youth leagues for rivaling drug cartel neighborhoods." Full Court Peace is also starting similar projects in Bridgeport.
"I trust my coach. He knows what he's doing, but it's definitely going to be a one of a kind experience, because how many people can say they went to Cuba?" Mills said. "And we're not just there to mess around; we're helping people out."
Evans believes that the manner in which DeWaele and Mills conduct themselves on the hard-court should serve them well for their upcoming project in Cuba.
"I chose them because they're level-headed guys. Given the circumstances down there -- the detainment story is one thing -- you've got to be calm and collected and they both are and they both possess great leadership capabilities," Evans said. "These are the types of guys we want to have on our team every year. The way they fit in on this team is a metaphor for how they're going to fit in in Cuba."
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