Canadian Olivier Hanlan a net gain for Boston College basketball team

BC freshman Olivier Hanlan left Canada to find top competition.
BC freshman Olivier Hanlan left Canada to find top competition. –jim davis/globe staff

He played with hockey players during their offseason, guys just looking for a way to occupy their time. They thought they might try out basketball for a season. For Olivier Hanlan’s high school teammates, the interest went no further than that.

Basketball, after all, is not the primary sport in Gatineau, Quebec, the hometown of Boston College’s highly touted freshman point guard. For Hanlan, though, it was different.

“I was really the only serious basketball player on the team,’’ he said. “It was fun in terms of having the ball all the time, taking every single shot, scoring as many points as I wanted. But in terms of me getting better as a basketball player, it was not really a good situation.’’


So Hanlan found other ways, including playing on teams outside of his high school, watching YouTube instructional videos, receiving extra coaching, attending prep school for two years, and competing internationally with the under-19 Canadian team.

And with all that, Hanlan, the son of a college basketball player from Kingston, Jamaica, made his way from Quebec to New Hampshire to Chestnut Hill.

“When I was in Canada, it was easy for me,’’ Hanlan said. “I was the man where I was from. Just going overseas, playing against Team USA, seeing everybody was good and everybody was working on their game and everybody was strong, quick, everything . . . it really opened my eyes in terms of me having to work even harder to get to that level.’’

Learning early

Henry Hanlan handed his kids basketballs when they were mere toddlers. He had come from Jamaica to play basketball in college in Canada, at the University of Ottawa, and he was hoping to make his four children love the game too.

He succeeded. Dominique played and now coaches. Tatiana plays for the University of Ottawa. Chloe plays for the same prep school, New Hampton School, that Olivier did.

“My dad, it all starts with him,’’ Dominique said. “He was like 100 percent basketball. He got us basketballs when we were like 1 or 2. He got us playing competitive on two or three teams a year from like 4 or 5.


“We’re not from an area where basketball is really, really huge, but my dad always put us in situations where we could get the most out of it.’’

That has turned out well for Olivier, who gets set to start his BC tenure, a team on which he could play a significant role. The Eagles are extremely young, having suffered through a 2011-12 campaign playing with mostly underclassmen.

But Hanlan and fellow guard Joe Rahon represent perhaps a higher caliber of freshman, and their minutes should reflect that.

Rahon, from San Diego and Torrey Pines High School, came from the established basketball grinder and, as BC coach Steve Donahue said, “Joe Rahon is probably more understanding of this level in some ways than Olivier. It doesn’t mean that Joe’s going to be more successful.’’

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It means that Rahon knows the routines, the coaching style, the teaching. He has seen it, has been through it. Hanlan hasn’t, not in the same way.

“Olivier, I think, is going to have some ups and downs until he figures out how good he is and how much he can do,’’ Donahue said. “If anything, he’s trying to not make mistakes, trying to be conservative. I want him to make mistakes; I want him to push the boundaries and see how good he can be.

“I can get anybody that can be conservative. I don’t want that. I want someone that can be special, and I think he has the ability to do that.’’

Love of the game

It was something that Dave Smart recognized in Hanlan early on. Smart, the well-regarded coach of the Ottawa Guardsmen basketball team, Carleton University, and an assistant on the Canadian men’s national team, put Hanlan up against older competition, forced him to work harder.


He saw potential, and he wanted it to grow.

“He really wasn’t very good in even Grade 9, and he’s improved steadily every year,’’ Smart said. “He’s changed his body, he’s improved his shot, but he just is the type of kid who’s a great player because he loves the game.

“He doesn’t love the game because he’s good at it, he’s good at it because he loves it, which bodes well in terms of him ending up being a special player.’’

Hanlan rarely worked with his own age group, and so he was rarely one of the best five or six players in the gym, Smart said. Because of that, even in a place that isn’t exactly a basketball hot-bed, the point guard was able to find the necessary competition.

He needed one good team, one good coach. In Smart and the Guardsmen, he found that, supplemented by workouts stolen from Youtube and modified by Dominique. He found enough to improve, and then he went south.

He had to, to get noticed, have coaches see him. There weren’t many willing to trek up to Quebec to see one point guard with promise, though there were some. Once he moved to New Hampton, once he played against better competition, interest picked up.

BC already had made inroads. Donahue and Smart have known each other for years, and Donahue had known of Hanlan since Hanlan was 15 years old. So, after two years in prep school, Hanlan decided to head to BC.

“It’s a perfect fit,’’ Smart said. “It’s a perfect fit for Steve and it’s a perfect fit for Olivier.’’

Hidden gem

It used to be that, for intrepid coaches with heavy parkas, Canada was a place to make a find. Donahue recalled a 6-foot-10-inch player he nabbed his first year at Cornell who likely would have gone to the Big East if he had been born in the United States.

That doesn’t happen so much anymore. Though the competition remains scattered, the talents are known, found and channeled into the national team programs, as Hanlan was.

Still, as Donahue said, “The fact of the matter is if Olivier was in a major city early in his life in the States, we would have a difficult time getting him. I just think there would have been a lot more recruitment.’’

And there would have been more competition. As it was, he did the best he could. BC did the best it could, to evaluate Hanlan.

“That’s hard, but it’s something I think we always try to do,’’ Donahue said. “I think you can get yourself a very good player if you work at that. It’s going to be 1 out of 1,000, but you’ve got to work at it.’’

From that work, that evaluation, BC appears to have found a skilled point guard, a cerebral player still working on his shot, who has built up his athleticism and strength to rank among the strongest on the current roster.

“He’s someone that we saw had very good athletic ability, but I think what separated him for us is his great basketball IQ,’’ Donahue said. “That’s kind of rare to get a good athletic point guard who really understands the game, and I think Olivier does.’’

It’s what his father was hoping for when he bought him that basketball, what Smart saw when he first began coaching him, and what Dominique nurtured with those workouts stolen from Kobe Bryant and Deron Williams and Steve Nash.

“We’ve been talking about playing college basketball in Division 1 and making the NBA since me and him were kids,’’ Dominique said. “It’s great to see him actually live our dream. It was my dream, it was his dream, it was my dad’s dream, to see us play.’’

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