Thursday, February 6, 2014
Harvard's Rivard finding the range
By Jack McCluskey
Anytime Laurent Rivard spots up from behind the arc with enough daylight to get a shot off and teammates alert enough to get him the ball, Tommy Amaker thinks the ball is going in.
More than that, the Harvard coach knows it is.
And when it doesn’t -- which is more often than not, as Rivard is a 41.8 percent 3-point shooter this season and even the best 3-point shooters typically make fewer than half their shots from distance -- Amaker admits he gets irrationally upset.
“I’ve joked with him before, I can’t believe he misses sometimes when he misses,” Amaker said in the lounge at Lavietes Pavilion on Monday afternoon. “That’s how much I trust him and believe in him, and it’s not fair to him, I’ve told him that before, but that’s how much confidence I have in him.”
It’s confidence earned by countless hours of hard work, thousands of repetitions over the years and big make after big make. After making 11 long balls (on 17 attempts) and averaging 20 points a game in this past weekend’s sweep of Princeton and Penn, Rivard has 253 career triples -- best in Harvard history and fourth in Ivy League annals.
Harvard's Laurent Rivard does what he does best, hoisting a 3-pointer. He's hit 41.8 percent of his shots behind the arc.
And to think, until high school Rivard was playing with his back to the basket.
“I was really tall when I was young,” Rivard said, “so I was in the post in elementary school, middle school.”
But when the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Saint-Bruno, Quebec, native got to high school and realized he wanted to come to the States to play college ball, he knew he would need to migrate to the perimeter. So he worked with a personal trainer to improve his ballhandling and conditioning.
Part of that work involved Rivard doing dribbling drills in his basement, next to the heater, until he was dripping sweat onto the floor.
The work continued at Northfield Mount Hermon, in Gill, Mass., where coach John Carroll was won over by his determination and helped him refine his stroke.
“He kind of took me under his wing and gave me a lot of confidence,” Rivard said of Carroll. “I think that’s pretty much the best thing a coach can do for a player, just have a lot of confidence in him so in turn I get a lot of confidence in myself.”
When Amaker came across Rivard at NMH, his sharpshooting ability was immediately obvious. But it wasn’t the only thing the Crimson coaches took note of.
“The things that we found and fell in love with just as much as [his shooting] was that he’s tough, he’s a tough-minded, rugged kid,” Amaker said. “He’s not afraid of taking a big shot. He’s not afraid of putting his body on the line. His work ethic is off the charts.
“Those are the ingredients we knew were going to be incredibly important for our program to keep growing, someone who has that ability, the marksman-like touch and shot but [who is] also just going to lay it on the line every day -- not every game, but every day. … He’s going to put the time in and those kinds of things become contagious.”
This season, Rivard was voted captain for the second straight season. That’s no surprise to anyone close to the program because while he may be a specialist on the court on game day, Rivard is a constant presence in the gym on non-game days.
“Laurent is a gym rat,” Keith Wright, who preceded Rivard as a two-time Crimson captain, wrote by email from Sweden, where he plays for Uppsala Basket. “He is constantly working on his craft, his specialty -- the 3-ball. It is no surprise to me that he has become the best 3-point shooter in Harvard basketball history. As for his toughness, that is how Amaker recruits. You have to be tough to play in a program where defense is the main focus.”
While defense may be the Crimson’s collective calling card, there is no doubt what Rivard’s is. The senior -- whom Wright nicknamed “L-Boogie” during their time as teammates, though he can’t remember why -- is third in the Ivy League in 3-point makes per game at 2.3, though his career-high 41.8 percentage on the shot is just 10th in the league.
According to kenpom.com, Rivard ranks 15th nationally in true shooting percentage (which factors in 3-pointers and free throw attempts) at 66.5, 26th in effective field goal percentage (which takes into account the value of the 3-pointer) at 63.0 and 29th in offensive rating at 130.5.
Rivard is so focused on shooting the 3, he hardly ever takes anything else.
“I think last year I made seven twos,” he said, “which is pretty embarrassing, I guess. I’ve already made more this year. But it’s worked pretty well for me, it’s worked pretty well for the team, so I don’t want to force anything.”
Rivard has made 10 two-point shots heading into this weekend’s matchups with Brown (Friday, 7 p.m. ET) and Yale (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET). He’s made 46 shots outside of the arc.
“He can get it going and it changes the dynamics of our team,” Amaker said. “He knocks in a couple of them and the floodgates can open, and not just for him but for us. That’s the joy of having him. That’s the weapon that he brings.
“Even when he’s not getting shots or even making shots, you have to respect him and get out there so the spacing of our team is better when he’s out there.”
Which explains why, at times, Amaker gets upset with Rivard not for missing a shot but for not shooting the ball.
“The green light for me is basically take any shot that’s a good shot for the team,” Rivard said. “And whether I’m 6-for-6 or 1-for-9, if I don’t shoot a wide open shot he’s going to tell me. He definitely wants me to be aggressive with it. As long as it’s a good shot for the team, I should take it.
“If it’s a forced shot he’s not going to be happy,” Rivard said, pausing, “unless I make it. Then it should be fine.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.