It’s a Long Road to the Top

After Injury, Evens Laroche Looks to Lead Stingers Back to Nationals

Photo Erin Sparks

It’s a few minutes after 8:00 a.m. and the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team is practicing routine layups on both sides of the court.

One by one, each player dribbles by Ernie Rosa, the team’s associate head coach, on one side of the floor, then gathers his rebound and makes his way to the other end of the court to do a different dribble-move by assistant coach David Bloom, before finishing at the rim.

It’s early, and the drill is more a way of getting blood flowing than anything else.

Among the 12 players in the gym is Evens Laroche, last year’s Quebec men’s university conference MVP and the team’s “Mr. Everything,” according to head coach John Dore.

Returning from a knee injury that had him sidelined most of the summer, warming up is especially important for Laroche, now entering his fifth and final year of Canadian Interuniversity Sport eligibility.

Still sporting a compression wrap on his right calf and knee as he dribbles up and down the floor, Laroche appears to be somewhat disinterested with the drill. He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do, but with no real conviction. He’s mostly just going through the motions.

By the time the first competitive drill starts, though—a five-on-five scrimmage—his body language is completely different.

Whether it be finding rookie Gabriel Riche on the fast-break for an open layup, or driving past his defender for two points of his own, everything he does is now tighter and more precise, devoid of the sluggishness that was showing just a few minutes earlier.

By the halfway mark of the practice, the 6’4” swingman is yelling after every made basket and calling for the ball on every offensive possession. He’s finishing fast breaks with dunks instead of layups and barking at teammates up and down the floor. He’s competing.

“Competing is everything to me,” Laroche said later. “Not being able to compete this summer was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”

It was a regular morning last June when Laroche first knew something was wrong with his knee. After returning home from one of his daily workouts, swelling and discomfort got to a point where he knew he had to do something.
“It was a different kind of pain,” he says. “I’ve always been used to playing through pain, but this summer I couldn’t.”

He ended up going for an X-ray after consulting a team therapist, but the results were inconclusive. After taking a month off and returning in late August only to feel the same pain, he decided to go for an MRI, revealing a serious case of patellar tendinitis in his right knee.

“Competing is everything to me,” Laroche said later. “Not being able to compete this summer was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”
—Evens Laroche

Today he says he’s about 80 per cent healthy, and hopes to increase that number before Wednesday’s season-opener.

The Stingers are hoping so, too. After losing last year’s leading scorer Decee Krah to graduation, Concordia will also be starting the year without second leading scorer and 2010 Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec co-MVP Kyle Desmarais due to academic reasons.

Laroche will need to be even more of a leader this year as the team tries to repeat as the Quebec conference champions, and when it comes to his leadership, there’s no finessing.

“I’m not afraid to yell at guys. I don’t think I need to be nice,” he said. “It’s just my way of trying to get the best out of everyone.”

During another practice last week, the Stingers were working on a full-court press defence. After his team failed to break the pressure for two consecutive possessions, a visibly frustrated Laroche instructed second-year guard Evan Gill exactly where to go.

The next time down the floor, Gill did as Laroche suggested and, sure enough, received the pass as predicted. The press was broken.

“Your spacing is way better,” Laroche told him later, during a break.

Being just as hard on himself as he is on his teammates is what made the difference between Laroche being an all-star in 2010-2011 and being MVP last year.

He credits a change in habits with the difference, saying that he started showing up earlier to practices and putting more time towards honing his individual skills between team sessions. Those incremental improvements to different aspects of his game had a major impact on his overall production.

Last season, his first as an All-Canadian, he was third in scoring for the Stingers with 13.3 points-per-game. He led the team in rebounds with seven per game, was first in steals and tallied the second-most assists on the team.

“When he first came here he was just a post player. That shows you how much he’s evolved,” said Dore, his coach of four years now. “His versatility now allows us to play him at every position, inside and outside, however we need him.”

It still remains unclear just exactly how ready Laroche will be come this week’s season opener against the Université du Québec à Montréal, or how long it will take for him to get back to 100 per cent and log the same heavy minutes as he did last year.

As long as he is on the floor though, one thing is for certain: he’ll be competing.