SPOKANE, Wash. — From the time they met, John Carroll was trying to explain his affinity for the 3-point shot to Laurent Rivard.
In Carroll’s playing days, he never quite understood it.
The paint always seemed like a moshpit — all the fighting for rebounds, muscling up shots, ugly collisions at the rim, turf wars on the block.
Basketball in the free throw lane was messy business.
But life was different at the 3-point line. There was room to breathe. He was on his own island with his defender. He had a nice view of the basket, nice enough to knock down any shot he wanted from long range.
And those shots were worth more.
“My philosophy as a player was those kids really have to work hard for 2 points,” Carroll said. “To stand out there and shoot 3s is not as much work. You know, one and one equals two, but one and two equals three. That also made sense to Rivard, too.
So Carroll went with what made sense. At Assumption College, he fired deep ball after deep ball until his 342 3-pointers set the school record.
“I spent a lot of time shooting,” Carroll said.
When he became head coach of his alma mater, Northfield Mount Hermon, hitting opponents with 3-point rainstorms wasn’t just a strategy, it became a culture.
Northfield Mount Hermon rolled sharpshooters off the assembly line, from Aaron Cosby at Illinois to Mike Marra at Louisville, whom Rick Pitino once called, “the greatest high school shooter I’ve ever seen.”
But Rivard was a special breed.
He thought about shooting in a completely different way, Carroll said. It wasn’t a skill, it was a science.
“He’s a computer programmer,” Carroll said. “He has that kind of mind where the science of shooting made sense to him. Once he realized that it was something that if he really worked on — based on the amount of hours you put in — you get results. That’s the kind of thing that really made sense to Laurent.”
Growing up in Quebec, Rivard was the one in the moshpit. Most of the points he scored came with bruises. But as he got older, he moved further away from the basket. Under Carroll at NMH, he began the transformation that would turn him into the long-range sniper who would go on to be Harvard’s all-time leader in 3-pointers.
“He kind of liked that so he took me under his wing and it gave me a lot of confidence,” Rivard said. “I think that’s pretty much the best thing a coach can do for a player — just have a lot of confidence in him and in return I get a lot of confidence in myself.”
For Carroll, Rivard’s work ethic made him the ideal pupil.
“It’s easy to find guys that want to learn how to shoot,” Carroll said. “But Laurent is in an elite category. Any time you get a kid that works at the level that he works at, if you give him a task with an immediate and deliberate response, he loves it. So I think it was a good marriage as far as philosophy and shooting and his desire to work.”
Looking back on Rivard’s four years at Harvard, none of it was guaranteed.
Not the four straight Ivy League titles. Not the three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Not the 282 3-pointers Rivard has knocked down to put him second all-time on the Ivy League list. Not the five treys he drained a year ago that sealed Harvard’s first ever NCAA Tournament win. Not the chance to do it again Thursday when 12th-seeded Harvard faces fifth-seeded Cincinnati in the opening round of the tournament.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker laid out all those possibilities for Rivard when he went to NMH to recruit him, but the Crimson were still a team trying to create something from the ground up.
Amaker had a clear vision for Rivard. He saw exactly how the guard’s shooting would fit.
“He’s always been known as a tremendous shooter,” Amaker said. “That was his strength. I think the things that we found and fell in love with just as much as that was that he’s tough. He’s a tough-minded, rugged kid. 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. He’s very committed and disciplined about that. Those are the kinds of ingredients and elements we knew were going to be incredibly important for our program to keep going.”
When Rivard was making his college decision, it came down to Georgia Tech and Harvard.
If he had gone to Georgia Tech, Carroll said, he may not have been the same player.
The style of play in the Atlantic Coast Conference would’ve forced the Yellow Jackets to ask him to do different things.
“Because of the league and because of the way the teams play, I think he would’ve been asked to be a more physical guy possibly somewhere else,” Carroll said. “Or the role might’ve been smaller. Or the opportunity might’ve been smaller because of style of play.”
In four years at Harvard, Rivard’s shooting has made him a game-changer and his leadership has made him a captain the past two seasons.
He knocked down at least one trey in all but four of Harvard’s 30 games this season.
“When he knocks in a couple of them, the floodgates can open — not just for him but for us,” Amaker said. “That’s the joy of having him, and that’s the weapon that he brings.”
When Rivard misses, Amaker does double-takes.
“I’ve joked with him before, I can’t believe he misses sometimes when he misses,” Amaker said. “That’s how much I trust him and believe him, and we all do. That’s not fair to him — and I’ve told that to him before — but that’s how much confidence I do have in him. He has the green light with our team and our program and everybody knows that.
He shot 42.6 percent from deep this season, and Carroll made sure to point out, “and people know he’s the shooter!”
It’s the kind of stat that Carroll lives for. After all, he’s known Rivard is that kind of shooter for years. This, Carroll said, is just confirmation.
“It was a leap of faith for him to choose Harvard, because a lot of it was things that could’ve happened,” Carroll said. “He really believed in the university. He believed in the program, and he believed in himself that he could help them get to this place. Everything that Tommy said to Laurent has happened.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.