Last summer at McGill, a crew of players met regularly to play pickup. Week in and week out, you’d see the same people on the court.
Of the regulars, there was one figure who stood out from the crowd. He didn’t mingle and he didn’t join any of the pickup games (at least the ones I played in). He spent hours either alone or with a partner doing exercises: endless pump-fakes, elbow jumpers and enough drop-steps that, if it were me, I would have been puking all over the court from dizziness. Not only was he notable for his solitude but also for his size—Tristan Renaud-Tremblay, the starting power forward for the McGill Redmen basketball team, spent the past summer honing his game. While I bricked shots all over the far courts, I was soothed by the rhythmic sounds of his dribble, dribble, shot: thud, thud, swish.
Renaud-Tremblay’s goal, his near singular devotion, is to become a professional basketball player. Though he towers over most of us, as a 6’6″ power forward, he’ll probably never be strong enough or even close to big enough to make it to the NBA. With a focus on getting better every day, he plans to make a career for himself in Europe.
Despite his intimidating height, when he’s in motion he reminds me of a whippet. Rangy, long, and with a certain refined elegance to his movements, he makes his living on the basketball court with footwork and agility. Because of his lack of size, even a tiny misstep will result in a humiliating block.
Tremblay says that his only basketball talent as a youngster was his height, but the success he enjoyed because of that height made him love the game more and pushed him to improve.
Soon enough he was dreaming of playing Division I ball. He took steps towards that end by enrolling at Champlain College Saint Lambert, a CEGEP renowned for sending players on to Div. I colleges. Renaud-Tremblay played for three years there under Head Coach John Dangelas, before receiving a scholarship offer from Div. I The Citadel, the military college that was lampooned in Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline.
Personal discipline had never been a problem for Renaud-Tremblay (as his summer training schedule demonstrates), so he didn’t balk at the thought of a highly structured military life. Once at The Citadel, he was asked to redshirt his freshman season, as the team hoped to turn him into a more perimeter-oriented player. He had no objections, as his goal was, and is, to become as good of a player as possible—whatever that entails. However, he soon realized that while he wasn’t an anti-authoritarian, he struggled to subsume his personal goals in order to fall in line with the others around him. Still spending almost all of his free time training, in between classwork and military exercises according to the school’s vigorous schedule, Renaud-Tremblay’s body began to break down. Unwilling to compromise his training, he simply wasn’t recovering properly. The coach who recruited him (Ed Conroy) moved on to a bigger Div. I program (Tulane) and Renaud-Tremblay felt lost.
After speaking with Dangelas, his former coach and now a Redman assistant coach, he began to think that McGill could offer him the autonomy to better achieve his goals. He believed that even if he failed, he would at least have taken control of his own destiny.
At McGill, Renaud-Tremblay sees himself as part of a changing culture: a renewed commitment to winning signalled by the hiring of Head Coach David DeAveiro and Dangelas. Together with Simone Bibeau, a fellow Saint-Lambert alumn, Renaud-Tremblay saw himself as an important cog in what was becoming a well-oiled offensive system: himself on the inside, Bibeau creating shots from the perimeter, and a bunch of guys who could make big plays when needed (Karim Sy-Morissette, Vincent Dufort, Winn Clark). However, when Bibeau suffered a season-ending injury in a preseason practice, Renaud-Tremblay understood that more of the offensive load would fall on him. Since then, he’s struggled on occassion.
“That’s where he gets in trouble sometimes, because he knows he’s the go-to-guy, I think he forces the issue too much,” DeAveiro said. That may have been the case in a lacklustre Thursday night performance against UQAM in which he finished with five turnovers, shot 2-7 from the field, and pulled down only five rebounds. The Redmen won anyway, on the strength of a huge night from Sy-Morrisette.
Renaud-Tremblay bounced back on Saturday night in Lennoxville against the Gaiters, leading his team to a 67-54 victory by registering 18 points on 80 per cent shooting.
One of the main things Renaud-Tremblay attributes his improvement to is his greater understanding of the game. He’s learned a lot by constantly watching basketball over the past months and really studying the professional game.
When asked who he watched the most, he said that, in part due to his own lack of athleticism—compared to most NBA players—and in part due to the lockout (which he couldn’t wait to end), he’d been watching the classics—particularly, the 1980s Celtics and their star, Larry Bird.
“What I like about his game is that there are no restrictions in terms of moves or what he can do,” Renaud-Tremblay said. “Like, ‘if he plays me that way, if I do this I’m going to surprise him with a different kind of shot.’ He almost never gives you the same look twice.”
“This is why I’ve been able to step my game up … being able to see the game in [a cerebral] way.”