From Montreal to OKC, Luguentz Dort Finds Basketball Inspiration in Family and Russell Westbrook
LAS VEGAS -- Russell Westbrook getting traded to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul and draft picks sent shockwaves through the basketball world, beginning with the NBA Summer League. Despite being inside Cox Pavilion at the time, the news of Russ no longer playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t hit Luguentz Dort quite as quickly.
Because, well, he and his Thunder teammates were preoccupied with an actual game against the Portland Trail Blazers when that Woj bomb dropped.
“To be honest, I'm actually really sad that he left because I know I could've learned a lot by being with him almost every day and stuff like that,” Lu tells CloseUp360 after scoring 12 points in OKC’s 92-87 win over the Blazers. “But I mean, I'm gonna still watch him definitely and then I'ma hopefully one time go against him.”
Though Lu looked up to Russ—and patterned his frenetic style of play after that of the eight-time All-Star and 2017 MVP—he’s used to paving his own path, on and off the court. Along a journey from French Canada and Florida to Arizona and now Oklahoma, he’s grown as a player and a person through the game, but still has a long way to go to get what he wants out of it.
“I already knew from the beginning it was going to be a grind,” he says, “and I was ready for it.”
At 12, Lu had to make a choice—and a life-changing one, at that.
In his hometown of Montreal, soccer wasn’t quite king, but it was closer to hockey’s throne atop Canada’s sports hierarchy than basketball was at the time. At the age of four, Lu first showed promise athletically not on the blacktop, but on the pitch—as a goalie.
“I was one of the tallest in my age group,” he says, “so that means being a goalkeeper.”
With his size, speed and footwork, Lu proved to be tough to beat between the posts. But the big Haitian kid with an even bigger smile also had a blast playing basketball. That footwork on the soccer field, combined with his quick reactions in goal, translated to make him a pesky on-ball defender.
And since all the other kids in Lu’s neighborhood—including his brothers—were hooping at Saint Laurent Park, he figured it best to do the same.
“All my friends was playing basketball and I was hanging out with them every day, so I just started,” he says.
As gifted as Lu was in two sports, his mom, Erline, knew that true success in either would require that he focus on one.
“At one point, I was doing both and then my mom told me, like, ‘You got to pick one,’” he recalls. “And then I was, like, ‘I want to keep playing basketball.’”
Once Lu’s mind was made up, Erline enrolled her son with the Park Extension Knights, a local youth basketball club in Montreal North. The coach, Nelson Osse, got on Lu about his game and his grades, all the while keeping him engaged and away from the street gangs that plagued the community.
Lu did well enough, both on the court and in the classroom, to leave Quebec after his freshman year of high school to enroll at Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville, Florida. There, he encountered a faster style of basketball, more talented competition and a language (English) he didn’t understand.
Those adjustments took time. When Shaun Wiseman, the coach at Arlington Country Day, left for a job at Conrad Academy in Orlando, Lu followed suit for his junior year. In 2017, he returned to Canada to spend his senior season at the famed Athlete Institute Basketball Academy in Ontario, whose alumni include former NBA draft lottery picks Thon Maker and Jamal Murray.
Along the way, Lu made a name for himself on the AAU circuit with Brookwood Elite, and on the broader basketball scene with standout performances in a variety of seasonal showcases. In 2017, he was named to the All-Star team at the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in New Orleans, played for the World Select Team in the prestigious Nike Hoop Summit, and won the first of consecutive MVP honors at the BioSteel All Canadian Basketball Game—Canada’s equivalent of the McDonald’s All-American Game.
That exposure brought Lu a slew of scholarship offers from NCAA Division I schools. He settled on Arizona State—where James Harden, Russ’ past and present teammate (and longtime friend) had starred—thereby setting himself up for his fourth uprooting in as many years, to Tempe.
Lu’s most dramatic move, though, might’ve been the one he made to the top of head coach Bobby Hurley’s depth chart. He led the Sun Devils in scoring en route to a berth in the NCAA tournament, and earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors in the process.
“The fact that I've been in a lot of places, I feel like I grow myself,” Lu says. “I've been on my own since I'm 16, so I just feel it's been fun going around the cities and stuff like that, just to help me grow as a person and just see how life is for real.”
In another lifetime, Lu would’ve been an exceptional football player. His strong build, quick feet and aggressive approach all seem tailor-made for the gridiron. But he barely watched the game when he first came to the United States, let alone tried it on for size.
“Nobody asked me to play,” he says, “but they all asked me the question, ‘Did I ever play football before?’”
Lu, though, has all the self-confidence he would need to succeed in just about any sport.
During this year's NBA draft, he turned down offers that would’ve made him one of the 60 players picked, choosing instead to sign a two-way contract with the Thunder—the team that had helped to turn Russ into a superstar.
“As soon as OKC offered me that two-way, I took it right away because I know how they are a good player development organization,” Lu says. “I feel like I'm gonna learn a lot and I feel like I'll learn pretty fast.”
With Chris Paul taking over point guard duties in OKC, Lu can look forward to graduate-level lessons in how to play in the NBA from the “Point God” himself. Not that Lu is waiting until training camp to get the lowdown on his new surroundings. For one, he’s taken a liking to fishing—a preferred local pastime in OKC—after joining the Thunder on an excursion before Summer League.
“I want to go back,” he says.
Luguentz averaged 8.6 points and shot 49 percent from the field for the Thunder during Summer League. (Amir Ebrahimi)
At some point, Lu also wants to return to Haiti, his parents’ country of origin. He hasn’t visited the island since he was five, and has all the more reason to do so now that his father, Lufrantz, runs his own school there.
“One day, I hope to invest and help my dad with the kids,” Lu says.
Until then, he will find other ways to stay connected to his family and his roots. At Summer League, he could always count on a cheering section with his sister, Daphney, watching from the stands in Las Vegas. On the court and in the locker room, his unique experience (and manner of speech) shone through for the Thunder.
“Really humble kid, bringing a little different experience coming from Canada, Montreal,” Dave Bliss, OKC’s Summer League coach, says after a game. “He's got the French accent, so a little bit different culturally, but it's been cool having him in the mix.”
Wherever he goes, Lu will carry a bit of ancestral pride for Haiti and do whatever he can to push Montreal’s growing basketball movement. His hometown may not be a bona fide hoops hotbed yet, but with fellow Montreal native Chris Boucher—the only Canadian on the Toronto Raptors—joining Joel Anthony among the city’s NBA champions, Lu will have plenty to live up to as he pursues his pro career, with a country and a culture behind him.
“Kids send me a lot of messages on social media,” he says. “I can't answer everyone, but it's really good that they see how basketball in Montreal is getting bigger.”
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.