NORTH SMITHFIELD — Never once did Matt Walkow have cause to mince words. When you’ve been friends with someone for a long time, the direct approach works just fine.
On the occasions when Walkow crossed paths with Cody L’Heureux during the three years leading up to the pair’s senior year at North Smithfield High, the conversation often drifted back to “the good old days” of middle school basketball in the same town. The hopes of creating additional on-court memories at the high school level were temporarily cast aside when L’Heureux moved to Woonsocket following eighth grade.
Keep “temporarily” in mind. Turns out the day L’Heureux waved goodbye to North Smithfield also served as the first day of his own personal journey back to the old stomping grounds. At the end of the 2012 school year, L’Heureux informed his pal Walkow that he was leaving Woonsocket High and coming home.
Of course, this meant Walkow no longer had to dredge up the same wish he often expressed to L’Heureux while partaking in summertime pickup games at the local park.
“I’ve been trying to get him to come back (to North Smithfield) since freshman year,” Walkow said with a smile.
Very few Rhode Island high school hoop programs are afforded the luxury of adding a high-impact player to a core that was already solid. Such a scenario has played out this winter for L’Heureux and the Northmen, who stand three Division III games away from a perfect regular season. To gain some better perspective of the rarified company North Smithfield stands on the threshold of joining, the 2007-08 season marks the last time a team posted a pristine league record. With a 16-0 mark, Classical went on to capture the Division II championship.
During this special carpet ride North Smithfield has been on – 15-0 in III-North, 18-0 overall entering this week – L’Heureux has learned to take nothing for granted. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard was Woonsocket’s best player during his sophomore and junior seasons at Woonsocket, two seasons marked by individual success (First Team All-Division I-North recognition in 2011-12) and team struggles (consecutive 1-17 league postings).
With the Northmen, L’Heureux is no longer forced to shoulder the burden. Mind you this modest, polite 12th grader is a pretty important piece in head coach T.J. Ciolfi’s rotation, but it’s not like North Smithfield’s success hinges on whether L’Heureux is grooving along with his jump shot.
“I definitely like it like that,” stated L’Heureux when asked about going from marked man to just one of the boys.
Added Ciolfi, “The games Cody hasn’t hit for double figures, we’ve won comfortably. In the big games, he’s hitting 20 (points) or close to 30. There are some guys who if they don’t get theirs, you’ll see that look. Sometimes, I’ll go up to him and he just doesn’t care (about his stats). He’s so happy to win that he’s really accepted that as part of the deal.”
In short, L’Heureux’s homecoming to North Smithfield has been a worthwhile experience in every sense.
It was in middle school where the foundation for future success was first laid. L’Heureux, Walkow along with Peter Keenan and Dan Jordan were part of a solid North Smithfield squad advanced to the 2009 quarterfinals before falling to St. Raphael star Charles Correa, then at Pawtucket’s Jenks Middle School. The L’Heureux/Walkow-led junior high squad was mentored by Brian Chuey, nowadays a junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant at North Smithfield.
Then came the part where L’Heureux changed addresses and moved in with his father Tim in Woonsocket. The teenager kept himself busy on the Villa Novan athletic front, playing soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball come spring. Through everything, performing long-range feats on the hardwood remained his primary passion, hence why L’Heureux felt uneasy about taking comfort in his personal success while Woonsocket was unable to gain any sort of traction.
“I never worried about recognition. My focus was more on winning games,” summarized L’Heureux about his Novan tenure. “It’s not that we had a bad team; we just struggled.”
With Tim L’Heureux set to relocate out-of-state as his son was on the verge of completing 11th grade at Woonsocket, Cody opted to head back to familiar soil and move in with Lynn L’Heureux, his mother. North Smithfield didn’t have a summer league entry, meaning “the new guy” would have to get reacquainted with Walkow and the rest of the returning Northmen at informal outdoor sessions on the blacktop.
“Initially, I had mixed feelings. It was different because I hadn’t been (living and going to school in North Smithfield) for a while,” said L’Heureux, “but I was close with a lot of people and remained friends with them.”
Prior to taking over at North Smithfield, T.J. Ciolfi served as the women’s basketball coach at Johnson & Wales. Given his familiarity with pounding the pavement in search of female talent, Ciolfi had little clue about L’Heureux or the skill set he brings to the table.
“(Chuey) told me he could play because he coached him in middle school, but I always take that with a grain of salt,” Ciolfi stated. “How many kids are great in middle school before arriving?”
This year’s North Smithfield edition was primed to welcome back four starters from a 13-5 league-record team that was good enough to equal Johnston in III-North. As fate would have it, the open spot was off-guard. The idea of automatically plugging in L’Heureux seemed almost too good to be true, but Ciolfi wished to reserve judgment until getting a firsthand look at the player who he had heard so much praise about.
“My question was whether he was good enough to start, which would lead to me getting laughed off the phone,” Ciolfi chuckled. “The first time I saw Cody shoot the ball, he became the starting shooting guard. He took one shot and he was the guy.”
The concept of bringing in a newcomer that has helped North Smithfield scale to lofty heights was a dead issue from right from the beginning. L’Heureux was familiar with the bulk of the roster, which allowed Ciolfi & Co. to hit the ground running.
“Instead of bringing in a total stranger to come in and start taking 15 shots a game, it’s our buddy Cody,” Ciolfi remarked. “We know what he can do, so they look for him.”
Speaking on behalf of the Northmen players, Walkow said, “Right from the get-go, Cody jumped on board with what we were doing.”
Ciolfi wasted little time in taking a liking to L’Heureux’s game. A deadly 3-point shooter who thrives in playing in an up-tempo setting? The North Smithfield mentor was on cloud nine.
“I told Cody that he has the greenest light in the state. He had that mentality already since he was their guy in Woonsocket,” Ciolfi said.
L’Heureux ranks second on North Smithfield in scoring (15.8 ppg), trailing only his pal Walkow (17.6 ppg). In the big games the Northmen have played, L’Heureux has shown a knack to rise to the occasion, scoring 18 against Division I Coventry on Dec. 30 while sparking his team with 30 points in a thrilling 64-62 win over league foe Mt. Hope on Jan. 15.
As Ciolfi mentioned earlier, North Smithfield has been able to post convincing triumphs on nights when L’Heureux is quiet from the field. The player netted six points in back-to-back games last month when the Northmen outscored their opponents by a combined score of 149-71.
“As long as we’re winning games, how many points I end up with doesn’t matter to me,” expressed L’Heureux, who’s swished 44 3-pointers for North Smithfield.
Ciolfi has detected other areas where L’Heureux has registered an impact. The coach mentioned the noticeable dedication Peter Keenan put into improving his overall game. Part of Keenan’s ability to significantly increase his scoring output from his junior campaign is also due to opponents electing to double team L’Heureux or Walkow early in games. There are going to be players left open, and with a 13.9 scoring average, Keenan certainly qualifies as a beneficiary.
Expanding further, Ciolfi has been impressed by L’Heureux’s commitment on the defensive end.
“Usually shooting guards don’t want to rebound, but Cody is more athletic than I originally thought,” said Ciolfi. “At first we had him at the top of (the Northmen’s 2-3) zone. After a couple of games, I put him down low with Peter and Matt.”
Electing not to play soccer at North Smithfield, L’Heureux has his heart set on playing college basketball. Right now Western New England University – located in Springfield, Mass. – and Westfield (Mass.) State have expressed the most interest. Before the time comes to pick a college, L’Heureux hopes that his return to North Smithfield includes the following: a Division III championship along with a strong showing in the 16-team, open state tournament that will shortly follow.
“It definitely feels good to be on a winning team,” said a clearly appreciative L’Heureux.