In Saint-Bruno, Quebec — a French-speaking suburb of Montreal — basketball isn’t exactly the most popular sport.
That didn’t stop Harvard freshman guard Laurent Rivard, however, from taking his talents to the hardwood while growing up in the Canadian neighborhood where ice hockey reigns supreme.
Rivard’s choice was made swiftly and early. At age eight, Rivard accepted an invitation to play in a hometown youth basketball association run by his mother’s co-worker.
That’s not to say he hasn’t had other athletic pursuits on the side.
A three-time Quebec mountain biking champion and seventh place finisher at the under-19 junior world championships in 2009, Rivard is a multi-sport talent. Basketball, however, has remained his priority.
That explains why, in an effort to put his name on the Division I recruiting map and also improve his English, Rivard decided to switch high schools — from Seminaire Sainte-Trinite in Quebec to Northfield Mount Hermon, a prep-school in Gill, Mass.
“There is not much [basketball] exposure up in Canada,” Rivard wrote in an e-mail, “and I felt like NMH was a great place for me to go to school, improve my English and play basketball at a high level.”
That opportunity panned out when Harvard came calling soon after. Rivard then formed a “great relationship” with Crimson coach Tommy Amaker and ultimately committed in November 2009.
“Harvard was really a program on the rise,” Rivard wrote. “To add to that, Harvard is one of the top schools in the world, so it was really a great fit for me.”
So far, Rivard has done more than fit in with his new squad. Through the Crimson’s first 18 games — of which only three were losses — the 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 11.8 points per game. He also ranks eighth in the nation with a 91.8 free-throw percentage and has been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week three times.
“My teammates are really unselfish, and I owe them a lot for the recognitions, especially Oliver [McNally] and Brandyn [Curry],” Rivard wrote.
Only one other freshman has upped Rivard so far with four Ivy Rookie of the Week honors — Penn’s Miles Cartwright — and the two freshmen are the prohibitive favorites for Ivy Rookie of the Year.
Cartwright is currently averaging a nearly identical 11.6 points per game, but has a sizeable edge in assists per game — 2.9 to Rivard’s 0.7. Cartwright also averages about twice as many steals per contest.
Rivard’s main advantage over the Penn freshman star, meanwhile, comes from beyond the three-point arc. Cartwright can stroke it from the outside — he’s hit 22 treys through 16 games — but Rivard does almost all his damage from out there. The Crimson frosh nails 2.2 threes per game and takes an astounding 68 percent of his total field-goal attempts from downtown.
Numbers aside, Saturday’s matchup at the Palestra could go a long way in determining the winner of the Rookie of the Year award, and — more importantly — the Ivy League championship.
Penn coach Jerome Allen acknowledged that regardless of the outcome, there’s “a possibility” that the first meeting between Rivard and Cartwright this weekend could be a preview to a promising rivalry in years to come.