Barrett set to suit up for Canada
Knicks rookie the latest NBA star committing to Olympic qualifier
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.”
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