Barrett and Nembhard: Friends and Canada’s next great basketball hopes

R.J. Barrett, 17, practices his shot with members of the U19 basketball Canada team (Nathan Denette/CP)

Canadian prep basketball players R.J. Barrett and Andrew Nembhard have been best friends for their entire basketball careers. They’ve also been the best players in their age group in the country.

They have been fixtures with the Canadian national program and ran the table for a perfect 35-0 season at Montverde Academy in Florida their senior high school season winning the Geico high school U.S. national championship.

For the first time in a long time next season, the two will be foes on the court. Barrett is off to Durham, to play for the Duke Blue Devils, and Nembhard heads to Gainesville, to play for the Florida Gators.

The first annual Signature All-Canadian Classic at the Hershey Centre in Barrett’s hometown of Mississauga, Ont., last month, was a chance for them to get used to playing opposite each other.

Don’t think there is interest in these two? According to organizers of the event, the online stream of the game received over a million live views.

The all-star game featured 28 of the best Canadian high schoolers with NBA scouts littering the courtside seating. The 17-year-old Barrett led Team White against the 18-year-old Nembhard’s Team Blue. Nembhard got the upper hand, winning 138-135, but Barrett was the best player on the floor, racking up 47 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and three assists.

Much has been made of Barrett being the top-rated player in his class but Nembhard has risen up in his shadow to be ranked 26th on ESPN’s Top 100 recruiting list and was one of the most coveted point guards in the class. The Aurora, Ont., native is expected to be Gators’ starting point guard, with the Gators backcourt options being depleted with senior graduations.

Barrett is widely expected to be a one-and-done prospect with his main competition for being the top pick in the 2019 NBA draft being his future Duke teammates Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish, who are the second- and third-ranked recruits.

Good work with the Brodie’s #puresweatfam

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This summer, Barrett is working out with professionals in Los Angeles and Nembhard is getting set to lead Canada as it hosts the FIBA U18 Americas Championship in St. Catherines, Ont.

At the Signature classic, Sportsnet spoke to both men about their relationship turning to a rivalry, their choice in NCAA schools and why they insist on wearing tight shorts on the court.

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Barrett and Nembhard: Friends and Canada’s next great basketball hopes