In L'Assomption, Quebec, French is the dominant language and hockey the dominant sport. For a lanky boy hoping to play major-college basketball in the United States, growing up in a far-flung Montreal suburb was, to put in mildly, less than conducive to fulfilling those hoop dreams.
With that realization in mind, Anthony Longpre left his native Canada in 2014 to live with a host family in Maryland, enroll at Glenelg Country and join the Dragons' varsity basketball team. Two years later, the 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward's decision has paid off. Longpre committed to Saint Joseph's earlier this week.
"Everything feels great," Longpre said Thursday. "When I got here two years ago, I was a completely different player. I just started working on my game and worked out every day. Language, too. When I got here, I couldn't speak the language. Now I'm a lot better. Everything is better than when I got here."
Longpre will join a Hawks team that won the Atlantic 10 Conference last season, beat Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA tournament and came five points shy of knocking off top-seeded Oregon in the second. Saint Joseph's magical 2015-16 season was thanks in large part to DeAndre Bembry, a first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks, and Isaiah Miles, a fellow former Glenelg Country star who led the Hawks in scoring and rebounding as a senior.
While Miles' journey from freshman standout at Glenelg Country to college star at Saint Joseph's was fairly direct, Longpre's has been anything but. It began when he started playing basketball competitively at age "11 or 12" and later latched on with Brookwood Elite, a Montreal-based, Adidas-sponsored Amateur Athletic Union program.
Kevin Quinlan, Glenelg Country's coach, keeps in touch with other basketball coaches around the world who might know of "a high-level player who wants to play in the States and is an outstanding student." One of his Canadian contacts put him in touch with Brookwood Elite's director, who immediately thought of Longpre.
Quinlan "decided to come all the way from Maryland to Montreal to see me work out," Longpre recalled. "I was definitely nervous because when I first got here, I couldn't really speak English and had to live with a host family. It was hard to talk with them because I couldn't speak English. But I got to learn English better and it was fine."
Said Quinlan: "He really took to the transition. Fortunately, our community is very welcoming. He made some really quick friendships right away, not only with basketball players, but other athletes and kids who are just general students. … I think it was good for him. He enjoyed playing the level of competition that we faced. He trained year-round, and that really resonated with him. It was fairly seamless."
Longpre, who took just one year of English classes in Canada and was exposed to the language only occasionally on trips to Montreal, had done very little strength training before moving to Maryland. But he took to Quinlan's conditioning program quickly and was a force for the Dragons immediately, averaging 15.5 points, 7.5 points and shooting 48 percent from the field as a sophomore.
As a junior, the redheaded French-Canadian was no longer a secret to the rest of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference. Despite being the focus of opponents' scouting reports, Longpre put up 12.7 points and 10 rebounds per game, shooting 44 percent from the field and earning all-conference honors again.
Between his play with Glenelg Country and his work on the Adidas circuit, Longpre developed into a coveted recruit for Saint Joseph's and many other mid- and high-major programs. George Washington was a major player in Longpre's recruitment, but the turmoil after the dismissal of coach Mike Lonergan essentially took the Colonials out of the running. Princeton was also in the mix. And just this week, coaches from Washington State, Kansas State and Missouri were scheduled to visit Longpre.
A visit to Saint Joseph's Philadelphia campus, however, made Longpre's decision simple.
"It's definitely like a community in a big city but kind of isolated," Longpre said. "The campus is very safe. It's pretty small, so I kind of like it. It feels like a family. … They have forwards graduating this year. With me and [fellow commitment] Taylor Funk there, a lot of playing time is going to be available. If I play well, I can earn time as a freshman, and that's the situation I was looking for."
Back in L'Assomption, Longpre's family greeted news of his commitment with excitement, confident after researching Saint Joseph's online that he had found "a pretty good fit." Quinlan agreed with that sentiment.
"He's kind of the quintessential high school pick-and-pop — probably the best one I've seen," the coach said. "It's a cliché now, but he's a European-style basketball player. I think they just like his overall skill set. He's very agile for a big guy. Great hands, great vision. He can shoot the heck out of the ball — you can just see it when it leaves his hand. He's deceptively athletic. He can jump well and has a strong body. And he also really handles the basketball well. The strongest part of his game is his passing; he's very unselfish. Great court vision, great technique in passing the ball.
"I've seen a ton of growth in him over these years."