When R.J. Barrett set foot on the podium to receive his FIBA U19 World Cup gold medal, he knew he was part of history.
“We had the ceremony and they presented us with our medals, then we sang the national anthem and we knew that we made history in that moment,” Barrett said on The Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 The FAN.
Since that moment Sunday, when he helped Canada secure its first gold medal in an international basketball event with a 79-60 win over Italy, Barrett has felt the support of an entire nation rally behind him and his team.
“We knew everyone was behind us,” Barrett said on Wednesday. “But it wasn’t until we got home and got off the plane and saw everyone at the airport waiting for us. That’s when we really knew that, wow, we really did something special, and all of Canada really cares about what we did and is really proud of us.”
It’s a moment that has taken years to come to fruition, and was made possible due in large part to Barrett’s immense contributions that helped him secure tournament MVP honours in the process.
On its way to gold, Canada had to beat the United States, a semifinal game in which the 17-year-old Barrett scored a team-high 38 points. The next day, Barrett followed up with an 18-point, 12-rebound performance in the finals.
Barrett says that everyone on his team stepped up for those “two big wins”, but Canada’s success at the World Cup also helped assure him that the future is bright.
It’s a telling sign, with R.J. also being the son of Rowan Barrett, the current assistant general manager of the senior men’s team, and a member of Canada’s last Olympic basketball team in 2000.
“Us getting a gold medal,” said R.J. “It’s just showing (us) that we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
For more of Barrett’s conversation with Jeff Blair, in which he discusses the influence of his father in his development, when he knew he had a chance to be good, and the stereotypes association with Canadians, watch the video at the top of the page.