Lu Dort thinks more high school programs will help grow basketball in Montreal

OKLAHOMA CITY — Luguentz Dort likes the direction that basketball in Montreal is headed, but he would make just one tweak.

Dort is having an excellent season as the starting small forward for the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Along with Bennedict Mathurin of the Indiana Pacers and Chris Boucher of the Toronto Raptors, the 24-year-old Dort is part of a new generation of NBA talent coming out of Quebec's largest city.

"Whatever's going on right now it's pretty good," Dort said about Montreal's current crop of quality players. "There's so many high talented players out of Montreal that get the chance to either play in the States or some big prep schools and have Division 1 offers and stuff.

"It's been great, but it's a process. I felt like we're catching up to the people from Ontario and Toronto and all of them."

His one suggestion to make Montreal's basketball scene even stronger is to introduce more competitive programs for high school students.

"Probably if we can get some prep schools in Montreal that play against the top schools in the States, that would probably be good one day," said Dort as the Thunder's practice wound down on Tuesday morning. "But that would be a process."

Dort is averaging 10.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists for Oklahoma City (40-17) this season, his lowest numbers in those categories since his rookie season in 2019-20. But his 44.7 field goal percentage and 40.4 three-point percentage are career highs, as are his 0.7 blocks per game.

That has helped his scoring efficiency (1.321) and shooting efficiency (0.57) reach their highest levels in his five-season NBA career.

"I'm just trusting the process, just really reading the game, watching a lot of film," said Dort. "I'm in my fifth season, I know what kind of shots I will get when I get in the game.

"And always, on a defensive side, I'm always doing my stuff. Just enjoying the process, really."

Dort is one of the players who committed to represent Canada for three years at the international level. He was part of the team that won bronze at the FIBA World Cup in September, Canada's first-ever medal at the men's international tournament.

He said that representing Canada helped him prepare for the NBA season.

"Just the winning mentality, the win-or-go home mentality, was everything," said Dort. "That and we got to play when a lot of people were off.

"That got us prepared for the season which was great because we didn't really have a break right after the World Cup we came straight back here and then got back to work."

MATHURIN MODEST — Mathurin scored 34 points with five assists and a career-high nine rebounds in Indiana's 130-122 loss to Toronto on Monday night. He shouldered some of the blame afterwards, saying that his defence could have been better and likely contributed to the loss.

"This year every game matters," said Mathurin on how his perspective has changed since last season. "We can't lose a game and go back and and be like 'man, we could have been there, we could have been the fifth seed.'

"As my years in the NBA advance, my role's going to be bigger and bigger, so I just have to be aware of what I can do to help my team win."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2024.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press