Lavandier ready to lay foundation for CEBL’s Montreal Alliance

“My philosophy is always the same — I want to help the players to be better for the future, for Montreal,” head coach says.

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If the name Vincent Lavandier doesn’t resonate with Montreal basketball fans, the Alliance’s first head coach has no problems being an unknown quantity.

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“The most important thing isn’t me,” Lavandier, 50, told the Montreal Gazette recently during a video conference from his home near Angers, France. “The most important is the Alliance, the players, the fans. Not me.”

Nonetheless, the historical significance of being the first coach of the expansion team that will begin play next month in the Canadian Elite Basketball League, hasn’t been lost on Lavandier.

“When you’re the first coach of the franchise, it’s a big honor for me,” he said. “It’s not a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of pleasure. I want to write something (positive) about the future, but the present, too. I want to keep my name on this franchise.”

The hiring of Lavandier, who has extensive experience coaching in Europe, was announced in early March by general manager Joel Anthony, a former NBA pro. Even Anthony knew little about Lavandier after a third party connected him with the coach’s agent.

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Anthony, who led what he called an extensive coaching search, said he wanted a francophone with pro experience, leading him to focus on France, Belgium and Switzerland. Anthony said he could have potentially hired someone more recognizable, but he liked the fact Lavandier had experience working in smaller markets with teams restricted to small budgets.

“The head coach is extremely important,” Anthony said Monday. “That’s your leader for that team, for those players while they’re on the court. Wanting to get that right was something that was very important to me. I had certain characteristics I was seeking; certain boxes that had to be checked.”

Although all of their interviews were conducted via video conference, it became apparent that Anthony and Lavandier had much in common. The chemistry between the two quickly became apparent. Lavandier, who has a sister in Laval, also had been contemplating a move to North America, according to Anthony.

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“It became very apparent to me the type of fit he would be,” said Anthony, who played for four NBA franchises and captured consecutive titles with the Miami Heat. “I’d ask questions and he’d come back with answers within the (framework). I saw myself excited for this potential hire.

“He’s effective in player development and loves working with younger players. It seemed like it was meant to be.”

Although much of Lavandier’s career has been spent in France, both as an assistant and head coach, he has never been averse to challenges or thinking outside the box. He spent 2007-08 as the head coach of Lagardère Paris in the women’s national 1 league. Then, more than a decade later, he left his homeland, becoming the head coach of the Glasgow Rocks of the British Basketball League, where he was named coach of the year after leading the team to the season title.

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He has led a nomadic existence, but has always been in demand, it seems.

“I wanted to coach outside of France,” Lavandier said. “I like to take my (suitcase) and work. If I stay only in France, it’s simple. I know a lot of people and teams, but I want to learn about new civilizations and personalities; a new country, new discoveries. That’s really important… to see something different. A different culture.

Building a foundation. I took this job for that. Without challenges, I wouldn’t coach.”

Lavandier, who has numerous coaching certificates, also has a degree in mental preparation. The psychology of dealing with pro athletes, he said, is paramount. He likes intelligent players with strong work ethics. On the court, he wants a team that plays fast and is athletic. He’ll seek a team that transitions quickly and passes frequently.

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“My philosophy is always the same — I want to help the players to be better for the future, for Montreal,” he said. “And why not a better team? I like to adjust my coaching. The communication’s important. And it’s important to give confidence to the players.

“I want a good person and a worker. That’s very important. The game’s one day, but the week’s seven days. We need to work every day for one game.”

Lavandier, the father of three, will arrive in Montreal next month. Training camp begins May 16, with the Alliance’s first game nine days later in Hamilton. The Alliance will launch its home season against Scarborough on May 29 at Verdun Auditorium.

“We have to work quickly,” he said. “When you decide to work in sports, the challenge is the first key to success.”

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