R.J. Barrett lives up to hype at Signature All-Canadian Showcase

Rowan Barrett Jr. (FIBA)

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — When you have a special all-star event essentially made for you, have your name and face on all the marketing materials to sell tickets for said event and rock a “Supreme” shooting sleeve during said game to boot, it goes without saying, you should be a prime-time attraction.

And that’s exactly what R.J. Barrett is.

Playing in his final high school game before he heads off to Durham, N.C., to add to the Duke legacy, Barrett, along with 27 other Canadian prep stars put on a show at the inaugural Signature All-Canadian Showcase Monday at Hershey Centre in Barrett’s hometown, an exhibition in the same vein as the McDonald’s All-American Game — only with this one being 100 per cent maple content.

A lot has been written about Barrett being “The Next One,” the guy who will finally take the heavy reins Steve Nash left vacant more than a decade ago. In that span there have been many who both fans and media alike have wanted to anoint as that guy (e.g. Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Murray), and while the jury’s still out on the likes of Wiggins and Murray, in Barrett, despite turning only 18 in June, seeing him in person makes you believe he is everything that’s been said about him, and more.

When speaking to scouts and those that have known him for a long time, the No. 1 attribute that comes up when speaking about Barrett is his competitveness. It’s an old sports cliché that the best players also hate to lose the most, but in Barrett this rings true.

During the morning shootaround of Monday’s game, Barrett could be seen barking instructions about how drills are supposed to go, was seriously dunking on guys whenever possible during scrimmages and looked visibily upset whenever he missed shots.

“He just wants to win every scrimmage, every shooting drill,” Barrett’s high school teammate Andrew Nembhard said of what makes Barrett special. “His competitiveness helps him a lot.”

Of course, being ultra-competitive doesn’t exactly mean much if you don’t have the skills to back it up, but that isn’t a worry for Barrett.

There’s a reason why Barrett never lost his No. 1 recruit ranking even when he re-classified to the 2018 class, and it’s his remarkably balanced, high-level game. The full repetoire was on display Monday, with Barrett breaking guys down off the bounce, drilling step-back triples, finishing acrobatic layups, dropping no-look dimes, sending weak takes back the other way and smashing thunderous jams.

Barrett finished with a game-high 47 points to go along with eight rebounds and five blocks, as his Team White made a nice comeback after trailing at the half, but fell 138-135.

In short, the kid’s prime time, and if you’ve never experienced the R.J. Barrett experience live before, make a point to try to make it happen – seeing that Supreme swag alone is worth it.

As strong as Barrett was, he definitely wasn’t the only thing from Monday’s all-Canadian all-star game that stood out. Here’s a a little more on the contest:

Five-star recruits not named Barrett also ball out

While Barrett was the deserved headliner, he wasn’t the only five-star recruit in the house Monday. His Montverde Academy teammate Nembhard and Arizona State-bound Luguentz Dort were also elite recruits, and they too lived up to their top-flight billing.

Nembhard, a six-foot-four prototypical pass-first point guard, finished the game with 18 points and 11 assists.

He’s headed to Florida next season, an opportunity he’s excited about not only because he’s going to one of the top programs in the NCAA, but because it’ll allow him to step out of Barrett’s shadow a little bit.

“We were never gonna go to [college] together,” Barrett said of Nembhard with a chuckle. “We’ve been playing together since we were in the sixth, seventh grade so it’s good for him to go off and make a bigger name for himself. Playing alongside him I was able to do great things so it’s his time to go shine.”

Dort, a Montreal native, repeated as Biosteel All Canadian — another Canadian-focused high school all-star event — MVP this year after taking home the honour in 2017, scoring 34 points in that game. An athletic specimen, standing six-foot-five, Dort finished Monday’s game with 29 points and 13 rebounds, along some of the game’s best highlights.

Bebe sighting

As further evidence that the Barrett experience is not one to be missed live, Toronto Raptors centre Lucas Nogueira was spotted at the event.

Whether or not it’s a good idea for any member of the Raptors — no matter how much they play — to be seen publicly goofing around after those past two games in Washington is another question altogether.

Moment of silence

It wasn’t all fun and games at Hershey Centre Monday. Before the game started, a 20-second moment of silence was held to acknowkedge the terrible tragedy that took place at Yonge and Finch in Toronto.

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