NEW CANAAN, Conn. – For a young man, Mike Evans has been around a lot of good basketball teams. But the first-year coach of the New Canaan High School team has his work cut out to bring the Rams back to respectability.
Evans, a 29-year-old former star at Weston High, picked up his first career win for the Rams last Wednesday against Trumbull. It is likely the first victories of many for Evans at New Canaan, who called the position “a destination job.”
But it won't be an easy job. Evans is the team’s third coach in three years. The Rams’ last winning season was 2007-08, when they went 19-5 under Jeff Bussey. Their last state championship came in 1962, last appearance in the state finals was in 1989 and last Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship was in 1969. Over the past two seasons, the Rams have gone 7-33.
Some coaches might see rebuilding the Rams as a challenge, but Evans sees opportunity.
“It’s easier to take over a losing program than a winning program,’’ he said. “Something very specific is working in a winning program. Whereas in a losing program, nothing has been working. You have to be confident in what you say and try something new. The kids will listen to something new. They’re very attentive.”
Evans comes to New Canaan with a winning background. He was a star at Weston, where he played under current Ridgefield coach Carl Charles and earned All-State honors as a senior. He played at Hamilton College, helping the team twice reach the NCAA tournament. Evans was also the manager of the Harvard men’s basketball team while he obtained his master’s degree.
Evans, who coached at Stamford Academy last year, is also the founder of Full Court Peace. The program trains and employs recent high school graduates from inner-cities to be basketball coaches, mentors and leaders.
He has his own experience in diplomacy from playing in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he assembled the first integrated high school boys basketball team of Catholic and Protestant teenage boys. He has also traveled to Mexico and other international locales to use basketball as a social tool.
His primary focus now is to build the program at New Canaan. Evans is also coaching a fourth-grade team in the New Canaan Basketball Association as he prepares for the long haul, changing the basketball culture at New Canaan from the ground up.
Can it be done? Football coach Lou Marinelli rebuilt a program that went 0-17-1 in its previous two seasons when he took over in 1981. The Rams went 4-5 that year – and have not had a losing season since. Maybe Evans will leave the same legacy.
“The best part is the kids are willing to learn,’’ he said. “They ask a lot of questions. There are no sour faces when you give them instruction. It’s tough love, but everyone wants to get better. They all want to work. Hopefully in a couple of years, we can build something good here.”