Bar­rett set to suit up for Canada

Knicks rookie the lat­est NBA star com­mit­ting to Olympic qual­i­fier

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - LORI EWING

TORONTO — The mo­men­tum keeps build­ing for Canada’s men’s bas­ket­ball team.

RJ Bar­rett be­came the lat­est National Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion star to com­mit to play­ing this sum­mer in Canada’s quest for its first Olympic berth since the 2000 Syd­ney Games.

“One-hun­dred per cent, def­i­nitely plan on play­ing for my coun­try this sum­mer,” the New York Knicks rookie said. “I’m very proud to say that.”

The 19-year-old from Mis­sis­sauga de­clared his in­ten­tions Wed­nes­day hours be­fore the Knicks faced the Toronto Rap­tors in Bar­rett’s first NBA game at home.

Bar­rett’s an­nounce­ment con­tin­ues a groundswel­l of com­mit­ment from some of the coun­try’s top play­ers. Den­ver Nuggets star guard Ja­mal Mur­ray an­nounced Tues­day evening that he’s on board to play this sum­mer. Ok­la­homa City Thun­der guard Shai Gil­geous-Alexan­der and New Or­leans Pel­i­cans guard Nick­eil Alexan­der-Walker added their names to the list a few hours later.

Dil­lon Brooks, Dwight Pow­ell and Khem Birch have also said they’ll play, while Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph vir­tu­ally never turn down a Cana­dian team in­vite.

“It’s great to see ev­ery­one buy­ing in and try­ing to do some­thing great for our coun­try. It’s re­ally ex­cit­ing,” Bar­rett said. “Peo­ple want to play and it’s fi­nally start­ing to show now.”

Ear­lier Wed­nes­day, Canada learned it will host Greece, the Czech Re­pub­lic, Turkey, China and Uruguay in its last-chance qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment June 23-28 in Victoria. Canada must win to clinch its first men’s Olympic berth since the 2000 Syd­ney Games.

Bar­rett’s dad Rowan, who’s also the gen­eral man­ager of the men’s team, played in those Games along­side Cana­dian le­gend Steve Nash. The younger Bar­rett is keen to fol­low in his fa­ther’s foot­steps.

“It’s the way to serve and give back to your coun­try,” RJ Bar­rett said.

Canada’s men’s pro­gram has been crit­i­cized for its ab­sence of NBA tal­ent. Ex­pec­ta­tions for last sum­mer’s World Cup were sky-high. Canada could have as­sem­bled per­haps the best team in pro­gram history. But one by one, the big names with­drew for var­i­ous rea­sons. Birch and

Joseph were the only NBA play­ers to make the trip to China where Canada, led by Toronto Rap­tors coach Nick Nurse, fin­ished 21st.

Bar­rett is no stranger to don­ning the red and white. He earned tour­na­ment MVP hon­ours at the U19 World Cup, where Canada cap­tured a his­toric gold medal, de­spite be­ing the team’s youngest player.

The six-foot-seven rookie, who was picked third over­all in this year’s NBA draft, is av­er­ag­ing 15.1 points, 5.6 re­bounds and 3.6 as­sists with the Knicks.

Bar­rett’s love of the game flour­ished in what was then the Air Canada Cen­tre. He sat court­side for his first ever Rap­tors game as a 10-year-old. His dad was be­ing hon­oured that night.

“When I think about com­ing back here and play­ing my first game, com­ing to the arena just now for shootaroun­d, I was think­ing about all the times where my dad took me to a play­off game, or I was able to come and watch LeBron play, or I was able to sit court­side and watch the Hawks play one time,” Bar­rett re­called.

Knicks coach David said the Cana­dian is easy to coach. “His ma­tu­rity, he’s a steady kid. All the guys that I’ve worked with — when you can tell them some­thing and they ap­ply it right away? That’s usu­ally a guy that’s pretty spe­cial, and he’s one of those guys,” he said.

“If you show him some­thing, he’s got it. You have to have cer­tain kind of fo­cus and ma­tu­rity to do that and he has that.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

RJ Bar­rett, picked third over­all in this year’s National Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion draft, is av­er­ag­ing 15.1 points, 5.6 re­bounds and 3.6 as­sists a game this sea­son with the New York Knicks

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