Bar­rett: Cana­dian bas­ket­ball suc­cess sign of pro­gram’s grow­ing cul­ture

The Sault Star - - SPORTS - LORI EWING

TORONTO — Canada’s path to the 2019 FIBA World Cup was paved on the backs of 35 dif­fer­ent play­ers.

They came from the NBA, the NCAA, Euroleague, U Sport and even high school. They came will­ingly. They got paid noth­ing. Some trav­elled halfway around the world. A good por­tion did so know­ing their chances of suit­ing up for Canada in this sum­mer’s World Cup are slim.

A day af­ter the Cana­di­ans’ thrilling 94-67 rout of Brazil that punched their ticket to the 2019 World Cup, Rowan Bar­rett spoke with ad­mi­ra­tion about the grow­ing cul­ture of com­mit­ment within the coun­try’s best bas­ket­ball play­ers.

“This is about the play­ers. It doesn’t work if they don’t want it. And I think their level of sac­ri­fice and com­mit­ment is to be com­mended,” said Bar­rett, the GM of Canada’s men’s pro­gram.

“I would love to see a change in any nar­ra­tive that speaks dis­parag­ingly about our play­ers and their de­sire to play. It’s flat out wrong,” he added. “Let’s be real and look at what’s hap­pen­ing, the level of sac­ri­fice, these guys are putting their bod­ies on the line, the amount of hours they have to travel to do this, just for their coun­try, they’re tak­ing risks, and they’re do­ing this. I’m elated as a for­mer player to see my coun­try­men step for­ward and answer the call like this.”

Canada’s vic­tory came af­ter a com­bined 43 hours of travel from their camp in Or­lando to Venezuela and then Brazil.

The 46-year-old Bar­rett, who’s also dad of Duke star R.J. Bar­rett, re­mem­bers the ad­verse con­di­tions in big games on the road. He played in the 1998 and 2002 world cham­pi­onships and the 2000 Olympics — the most re­cent Olympic ap­pear­ance for the men’s team.

“In or­der for us to qualify for the 2000 Olympics, we had to beat Puerto Rico in Puerto Rico,” Bar­rett said in a phone call from Durham, N.C., there for his son’s game on Tues­day. “I can re­mem­ber there were cars in the street try­ing to block our path. You’d get off the bus and they were jeer­ing. At the arena they were throw­ing things at us. We’re in the locker room and the coach is try­ing to do the pre-game and they’re bang­ing on the door, scream­ing things in Span­ish. Any­thing to try to in­ter­rupt your focus.

“I just re­mem­ber think­ing ‘OK, do your best, let the dog-and-pony show go on, we’re go­ing to beat you. Doesn’t mat­ter what you do. It’s com­ing.’ But we also had to suf­fer through some losses to go to that point. I think that mat­u­ra­tion and men­tal for­ti­tude all came to­gether when we fi­nally qual­i­fied in ’99. And I’m start­ing to see that with this group.”

Canada limped to a mis­er­able 0-5 at its last World Cup in 2010 in Turkey, fin­ish­ing 22 out of 24 coun­tries.

Next sum­mer in China, the coun­try should field its best squad in his­tory, blessed with a deep tal­ent pool.

“I think that a part of be­ing the greatest team ever is per­form­ing like it,” Bar­rett said. “Our guys have to show up, and we’ve got to per­form. On de­mand.”

Com­pe­ti­tion to make the squad will be fierce. While Canada could have at least 17 NBA play­ers to choose from af­ter the 2019 draft, the ros­ter likely won’t be com­prised ex­clu­sively of NBA play­ers.

“We need to pick the best team, and the best team is not al­ways the most tal­ented team,” Bar­rett said. “I think win­ning our (U19) world cham­pi­onship in 2017, first ever in our 93-year his­tory, if that taught us any­thing, it’s that the best team is go­ing to have the best chance to win. The one where we can set roles. When I talk to my NBA guys now, and I hear them say­ing ‘If I’ve got to come off the bench so another player feels good and he’s in the right mindspace to be great, I’ll do it.’ That’s the stuff that we’re go­ing to need in or­der to be suc­cess­ful.”

The work of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with play­ers, and gaug­ing their in­ter­est, started a long time ago, Bar­rett said. He doesn’t be­lieve that any­body who’s avail­able and is se­lected will say no.

“The type of en­thu­si­asm that play­ers have for next sum­mer is ex­cit­ing,” he said.

The World Cup runs Aug. 31 to Sept. 15. The top eight teams, in­clud­ing Olympic host Ja­pan, book au­to­matic berths in the 2020 Tokyo Games. Canada’s top fin­ish in the event was sixth in 1978 and ’82.

FED­ERICO PARRA/GETTY IMAGES

Canada’s Brady Hes­lip is chal­lenged by Venezuela’s Miguel Ruiz dur­ing a FIBA’s Amer­i­cas Qual­i­fier match for the China 2019 Bas­ket­ball World Cup on Nov. 30. Canada qual­i­fied for the World Cup on Mon­day af­ter a 94-76 rout of Brazil.

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