The opportunity of a lifetime

If you spent a day in the life of 17-year-old David Lafleur you might find yourself in Hawaii, or on the Alaska National Youth Basketball team.

Or you might find yourself sleeping on the floor of your coaches’ living room while he takes you in to teach you all he can about the sport because in you he sees great potential. But if you’re lucky, depending on how you look at it, you could land on a day when you’re placed on the opposing team against NBA Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash. 

And, if you asked Lafleur, he’d tell you that all of these experiences were a result of being in the right place at the right time. But if you ask his mom Jennifer Lafleur, it’s the hard work coupled with the right attitude.

“I think it’s his personality that makes things happen,” she said. “He’s always smiling, has a great sense of humour. It’s not that he hasn’t worked hard—part of it is a charmed life and part of it is something in him. Good things happen to him.”

Originally from Hay River, the former Diamond Jenness Secondary School student attends St. Michael’s University School, a private secondary school in Victoria. The NBA star Nash attended the same school before heading on to play in the NCAA before entering the NBA draft in 1996. Normally Nash would be preparing for his upcoming season but this year the NBA is on lockout until December.

Every year at St. Michael’s there’s an alumni game and this year there were murmurs in the hallways. Aside from the routine team handshakes and before game rituals, nothing could have prepared them for this one.

“It was kind of a rumour (Nash) was coming but we didn’t know for sure,” said Lafleur.  “My jaw kind of dropped when he walked onto the court.  The stands went crazy when he came out and the pressure intensified, but I knew we had a game ahead of us. I’ve never been the kind of person who could shy away from the pressure.”

The Grade 12 student has travelled to the Northwest Indigenous Games, the Arctic Winter Games along with the under 17 Nationals hand selected for Team Alaska, but has set his sights on playing ball in a post-secondary environment.  He’s travelled all over Canada and to the United States to play basketball. A few years previous who won the athlete of the year award at DJSS.

“He’s willing to go out and try new things,” said Jennifer Lafleur. “He doesn’t ever hesitate especially if it’s going to get him closer to what he wants to do. I’ve never had to get on David for anything. He’s pretty determined to do what he wants to do so I just support him.”

But it hasn’t all been rosy for Lafleur. There were many tournaments he couldn’t attend because of associated costs. Also, team Alaska’s performance at the under 17 nationals in Winnipeg last year was a huge let-down.

“Everyone felt like crap at some points because we just got destroyed,” he said. “But it motivated me to get better. We did get handled but as soon as I played with St. Michaels I knew I had to step up my game.”

But before all this, Lafleur spent the last two months of his Grade 10 year in Yellowknife. He spent nights camping out on coach Shaun Doherty’s living room floor and days being whipped into shape before attending St. Michaels.

A typical basketball season in most Northern schools is less than two months. At St. Michael’s it’s almost five, plus more than 10 tournaments a year. Doherty saw Lafleur play at a tournament in Yellowknife and took him under his wing.

“He taught me a lot about the game and he moved me into his house right after he got married,” said Lafleur. “I lived on an air mattress for four months. I wouldn’t have done that if I were him. But it was something I really wanted so I jumped at it.”

Next year Lafleur has his sights set on eastern Canadian Universities and P1 level basketball teams.  He’s also become fascinated by human geography and sociology. Wrangling homesickness, his goal is to continue on with basketball at the university level while hitting the books and continuing to top his experience.

“I get to do a lot of things,” said Lafleur. “When I get older I can say I played against Steve Nash in a basketball game. I never thought any of this would come. I thought I’d be in Hay River my whole life, but I met people at the right time. I don’t mean to sound cocky or obnoxious but I worked really hard to get to where I’m at.”