01 - 09
July 2017
6 R.j. Barrett (CAN)
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Barrett excels in role as young dominator at U19

CAIRO (FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017) - Younger age players at international youth events have certain roles to fill. But very few of them are like RJ Barrett, who despite playing against guys two years older, took on the role as dominating leader at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017, carrying Canada to their first-ever title. 

Barrett won MVP honors after leading the tournament in scoring with 21.6 points while also averaging 8.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.7 steals. All this even though he only celebrated his 17th birthday about three weeks ago.

"It was just a crazy experience to see how far we came in a couple of weeks. It was an amazing feeling," said Barrett, who collected game highs of 18 points and 12 rebounds in Canada's 79-60 victory of Italy in the final in Cairo. "It's a hard group of guys, everybody worked hard and fought."

It wasn't Barrett's first appearance on the global stage as he was Canada's leading scorer at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016 despite being a year younger than the rest of the competition. His showing in Zaragoza last summer, when he averaged 18.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists, included a game-winning dunk in a crucial group game against Australia.

Canada sharpshooter Danilo Djuricic was spending his third summer with Barrett in Cairo and marvelled at his younger teammate, especially after Barrett collected 38 points in Canada's upset win over the two-time reigning champions United States in the country's first-ever Semi-Finals.

"You saw it. He carried us in the first half. He's the reason we were in the game. Finishing with some huge numbers, especially for a guy who's two years younger than all the competition," Djuricic said. "RJ led us and he's been leading us the whole tournament - scoring, passing, rebounds. He's doing it all for us. And he's being a great leader."

Barrett has that trait in his blood as his father Rowan Barrett played for Canada at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 1991 and then appeared at two FIBA Basketball World Cups as well as the 2000 Olympics. 

"He texts me every day and gives me pointers," Barrett said of his father, who is also the assistant general manager and executive vice president of Canada Basketball. "He's great and is supportive from back home and I feel loved."

Barrett, who attends high school in the United States, is definitely loved by his teammates as well. 

"He's an unbelievable player, an even better character," said Canada forward Abu Kigab, who was in Barrett's shoes two years ago as he too played two years up and appeared at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2015. "He's amazing off the court, just an overall good guy. I really love him just like a little brother."

Canada assistant coach Michael Meeks was a Canadian assistant at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016 as well. And he's been very impressed with how Barrett dealt with everything surrounding Cairo 2017.

"He's handled everything like a pro. This is his best summer. He's had to overcome a lot of adversity and I think he dealt with that," Meeks said. "The deeper the pool you put him in, the bigger the muscles he grows and finds a way to keep his head above the water and excel. He's exceptional."

This was head coach Roy Rana's first go-around coaching Barrett for Canada Basketball. And talking to Rana after Canada's historic win in the Quarter-Finals - the stage where Canada's exited the U19 tournament in 2009, 2013 and 2015 - it was clear just how impressive Barrett's showing in the final eight was.

"I said to RJ, these are the moments. These are the moments where players arrive. And he arrived today. He absolutely delivered on the biggest stage of his career," said Rana shortly after Barrett dropped 27 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists on France.

Remember, Barrett was two years younger than the rest of the competition in Cairo - even though you couldn't tell when he was dominating the game.