By Ottawa Sports Pages, For Louis-Riel Rebelles
Head Coach of the new Boys’ Basketball Academy at Louis-Riel high school, Vincent Dufort is a leader who can teach his students the keys to success on the court and in the classroom …and he can school them one-on-one too.
Dufort was a perennial conference all-star during his career at McGill University, where he served as team captain for four years, he was Quebec’s MVP and an All-Canadian in 2014, and he still plays for Canadian entries on the international FIBA 3×3 circuit.
That kind of experience (along with his slick moves driving to the hoop) has earned Dufort rapid respect from his young students.
“Being able to play at a high level allows you to see the game in a different way,” signals the past winner of the national university Ken Shields Award for excellence in basketball, academics, and community involvement. “If another team is trying a certain strategy against us, then you know you can counter this way when they do that.
“And you can kind of relate to the kids and relay that message: ‘When I was in that situation, this is how I dealt with it.’ It helps in a lot of ways.”
An assistant with the Queen’s Gaels last year, Dufort has helped launch the Louis-Riel Boys’ Basketball Academy alongside Academy Director Joshua Caissie this season.
Caissie has worked with many of the region’s top programs while learning from the best, including the Laurentian Voyageurs’ Shawn Swords, and André Desjardins – the Louis-Riel and provincial/national team coaching veteran of 25 years who brought the Louis-Riel Girls’ Basketball Academy to life in 2016.
“It was a huge help to be able to replicate a lot of what André does on the girls’ side, and for us, we’re so lucky to have him as a mentor,” notes Caissie, a Laurentian University history/education grad. “Yes, obviously for X’s and O’s in basketball, but I’ve also learned a lot from how he interacts with the players, and how to get the best of your players.
“Watching players progress as you’re coaching and working with them, there’s not much more rewarding than that.”
Dufort and Caissie are both teachers at Louis-Riel, and ensuring students’ academic success is the fundamental pillar of the French public school’s Sports-Study initiative (and crucial to play at the next level, they note as well).
Basketball has always been popular since the Sports-Study program was created in 2005 – roughly 100 students are currently enrolled in the stream available to all, while the Academy offers the chance for top players to excel at the highest level.
High school students earn physical education credits for their daily basketball class, while Grade 7-8 students can also get a taste of what’s to come in the school’s Exploratory Sports program.
“We’re proud to say that there’s no other club or prep team that has as much gym time and works out as much as we do,” highlights Caissie. “That’s a big problem in the City of Ottawa. Club teams, if they’re lucky, they’re practicing twice a week. We have practices every day and weight lifting every day with a certified personal trainer at first-class facilities.”
Integrating basketball into the school day opens up student-athletes’ evenings for time with family and friends, for homework and for proper rest.
“Being based at a school also helps us keep our expenses down an awful lot,” notes Caissie, explaining that coaches are employed as teachers, the gym doesn’t have to be rented, they’ve got their own busses and high-performance training equipment, and Louis-Riel can access top-quality clothing and gear as one of a tiny number of high schools in the Nike Team program.
“One of our goals is definitely that it doesn’t cost too much to play basketball,” he adds.
Altogether, the Louis-Riel Basketball Academy offers the ideal setup to prepare for the demands and lifestyle of a varsity student-athlete.
“We’re really big on development,” underlines Caissie. “Obviously everyone wants to win, we’re competitive, but our goal really is to develop the players to the best of their abilities so that they’re ready for the next level in college or university, and give them that exposure so that when they go there, they can fit in immediately.”
Midway through their first year operating as an Academy, Louis-Riel is among the leading national capital high school league teams, and they often travel to face top opponents in preparation for next season when they’ll join an elite circuit such as the Ottawa Super League, the National Preparatory Association or the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (currently home to the Louis-Riel Girls’ Academy). Open tryouts to join the Academy next season are anticipated for late-April.
“We take the best players, but within that are also the ones who demonstrate potential that we can develop to an elite level,” states Caissie, who seeks talent and athleticism in new players, as well as coachability and a positive attitude that can contribute to building an excellent program culture. “We’re really excited for the future of the Louis-Riel Boys’ Basketball Academy and what it will offer French-speaking players in the region.”