Laurent Rivard is more than just a shooter: he’s a basketball player

by January 2, 2014
Harvard senior Laurent Rivard. OBW file photo / Sam Perkins

Harvard senior Laurent Rivard. OBW file photo / Sam Perkins

Stop Calling Laurent Rivard A Shooter

“Look for your shot, L!”

Tommy Amaker’s voice carried across Lavietes Pavilion.

There’s no doubt to whom the Harvard coach was calling—if you scan Harvard’s roster you’ll find just one name beginning with L: Laurent Rivard.

You can find that name in the Harvard record books, too.

With half a season to go, Laurent Rivard has already hit more three-pointers in his career than any player in Harvard history. He’s been a shooter since Day 1: in his very first college game, Rivard took five shots in the first half. He missed all of them. Then he came out in the second half and took six more.

Yet three and a half years later, less than a minute into Harvard’s game against Boston College, Amaker was imploring his captain to shoot. Instead, Rivard caught the ball at the top of the key, glanced at the basket and passed to a teammate.

He did a lot of that in Harvard’s 73-58 victory over its crosstown rival. The 6’5” wing finished the game with 2 points—a far cry from the 23 points he put up against Boston College as a freshman, or even the 18 he scored against the Eagles as a sophomore.

Midway through the 2013-14 season—his last with the Crimson—Rivard’s numbers are down. His scoring average is down; his shooting percentage is down; his rebounding numbers are down.

But one number remains as high as ever: his minutes. In fact, aside from point guard Siyani Chambers, Rivard is playing more than anyone else on the team.

Wednesday’s game against Boston College was no different: Rivard played 35 minutes, second most for the Crimson. You wouldn’t know it, though, from his final numbers: 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1-of-5 shooting.

Three years ago those stats might have bothered Rivard. They might have stung. They might have even kept him awake at night.

But not this year. Not the new Laurent Rivard. On Wednesday, he was just having fun.

“He’s a really good basketball player,” Amaker declared during a recent post-game press conference.

It seems like an obvious statement—something a coach shouldn’t have to say about a guy who has already been an All-Ivy Honorable Mention. But about Laurent Rivard it needed to be said.

For the past three years, Rivard has been typecast: a one-dimensional player. A lousy defender. A shooter.

To a certain extent it’s a reputation he earned. There’s no question he likes to shoot threes—and that it’s something he does well: last season, Rivard made 87 field goals; 80 of them were three-pointers. And he’ll be the first to admit he shouldn’t be defending the opponent’s quickest guard.

But in his final season, Rivard has been quietly reinventing himself. With Harvard boasting more scoring threats than ever before, Rivard has turned his attention to the little things—moving the ball, playing help defense—that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.

“I’ve been a freshman. I’ve been a sophomore, and I’ve wanted to score and I’ve wanted to shoot,” he said after Wednesday’s game. “Right now we’re just focused on winning.”

OBW File Photo / Sam Perkins

OBW File Photo / Sam Perkins

So far the Crimson has been doing just that. At 12-1, Harvard has matched its best start of the Amaker era. And though he’s scoring less than any other Crimson starter, Rivard deserves his share of credit. Take, for instance, these five plays from Wednesday’s win:

With just under 11 minutes to play in the first half, Rivard receives the ball in the right corner. He pivots, scanning the floor. Kyle Casey pops open under the basket. Rivard zips him a pass, and Casey gets fouled. Casey hits two free throws. 15-6 Harvard.

A few possessions later, Boston College guard Joe Rahon beats his defender off the dribble and closes in for a layup. Rivard leaves his man and steps into the key. Rivard doesn’t attempt to block the shot — he just stands with his arms extended in the air. Rahon contorts his body in midair to avoid Rivard and blows the layup. Casey corrals the miss and pushes it ahead to Steve Moundou-Missi for an and-one layup. 24-11 Harvard.

With less than two minutes to go in the first, Harvard has a 3-on-2 fastbreak: Chambers dribbles down the middle of the court, Saunders flanking him on the left, Rivard on the right. Rivard reaches the three-point line and stops. One of the Eagles defenders shadows him on the perimeter. Chambers dishes to Saunders, and the junior blows past the other defender. With no help in the paint, Saunders finishes an uncontested layup. 37-20 Harvard.

Rivard receives the ball on the left block with 14 minutes to go in the second half. The BC defense converges in the paint, and Rivard dribbles out to the perimeter. He passes to Chambers, who swings it to Saunders on the right wing for a wide-open three-pointer. 48-39 Harvard.

With less than seven minutes to go and Boston College within five, Eagles guard Olivier Hanlan barrels to the basket on a fastbreak. Rivard picks him up in transition and, without fouling, slows Hanlan’s progress. This gives Moundou-Missi enough time to recover and block Hanlan’s layup attempt. Saunders grabs the miss and goes coast-to-coast for a layup. 58-51 Harvard.

Without Rivard, those 12 points probably come off the board. But what does he have to show for it? Zero rebounds. Zero blocks. Zero assists. Zero points.

Rivard doesn’t seem to mind much.

“We’re trying to make plays for each other,” he said after the game. “And I think that’s fun. I think that’s why we have a good record right now.”

Amaker, though, has noticed it all—something he told the press corps after Harvard’s win over Northeastern. Rivard scored 10 points that night, but Amaker seemed more impressed with the senior’s help defense.

“He’s active off the ball, and that’s very helpful,” Amaker said. “With a good defensive team you have to have good help defenders, and I think he’s one of the best—if not the best—on our team.”

Three days later, Harvard beat Boston University in overtime. Rivard took just four shots but played 43 minutes. After the game, Amaker again praised the senior.

“Even if he’s not able to get shots off or get the catches for the shots, you have to guard him, so that’s a big weapon to have on the court,”Amaker said. “It really spaces the floor well and gives driving lines and lanes for our guys who can put it down and make a play off the bounce.”

How does Rivard feel about that — about sometimes being a decoy instead of a scorer?

“I honestly don’t mind now because I know guys are making plays off the dribble,” he said.

But decoy isn’t the right word either. Laurent Rivard is a basketball player.