A childhood dream was fulfilled Friday night.
At Lionhead Golf & Conference Centre in Brampton, Ontario, R.J. Barrett declared “I have made the decision that next year I will be attending Duke University.”
Coming into the announcement Barrett narrowed down the decision to Kentucky, Duke and Oregon.
Duke was always a frontrunner as it was the team he dreamed of playing for as a child. Odd to refer to a high-school senior as a child in the past tense, but Barrett carried himself like a grown man in front of live cameras and a massive press gathering.
The braces were off, the haircut was clean, the suit was black and tailored match to his father’s, Rowan Barrett, and younger brother’s, Nate. As he stood up and made his decision he was hugged by his mother saying, “I’m so proud of you son.”
As much as it was press conference and TV show it felt like a family reunion as in an onlooking room sat friends, and family. Among those on the guest list to give their well wishes was Michael “Pinball” Clemons, Toronto Raptors Super fan Nav Bhatia, CEO of Canada Basketball Michele O’Keefe, Dwayne De Rosario and Penny Oleksiak.
The celebratory mood at the event was because, formality or not, it was in fact a big day for both Barrett and Canada basketball. Mainly because the signing was a precursor that for both player and program there are much bigger things to come.
Here is all you need to know about the decision and what it means moving forward.
Barrett could have been the biggest recruit in the history of the Oregon Ducks program. Oregon would have been the sentimental choice as they had recruited him the longest and have had a great history of attracting Canadians to the team including friends of Barrett’s.
He also could’ve been the next in a long list of ‘one-and-dones’ to become future NBA all-stars at Kentucky. After beating John Calipari’s Team USA at the FIBA U-19 World Cup nobody would be surprised if Barrett chose to play with him in Lexington as the one-and-done factory has become the safe choice for top recruits.
Ultimately, he chose Duke based on the international feel of the student body, incredible atmosphere at Cameron Indoor Stadium and the long list of influential alumni, including Grant Hill, who just so happened to be on campus for a speaking engagement when Barrett. was scheduled to take his official visit. Hill spent time with the 17-year-old, a major factor that helped close the deal.
Barrett is a crafty left-handed player. Think of James Harden’s ability to manipulate the pick-and-roll and LeBron James’ ability to use speed, energy and brute force to be a locomotive out on the break. The under-appreciated part of his game is his ability and willingness as a passer. His court vision, when looking to facilitate, is beyond his years. Impressive for a young man who already is 200 pounds and standing at 6-foot-7.
He projects to be a small forward, but has played point guard for much of his developmental years and could very well be a positionless perimeter player because of his size-to-skill ratio.
It’s been a busy and formative year for Barrett. Last year, he averaged 25 points and eight rebounds at the DICK’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals, leading Montverde Academy to the championship game.
Last spring, he led the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League in scoring with 28 points per game playing for UPlay Canada. Before that he was the MVP of the 2017 NBA all-star Basketball Without Borders game and the 216 NBA Jordan Brand Classic.
You’d be hard pressed to find a prep player with a more impressive body of work with still another year of high school basketball to go. Barrett’s statement game came this summer when he dropped 38 points, 13 rebounds and five assists on 50 per cent shooting in the FIBA U-19 semi-final game upset win versus the United States. It’s arguably the most impressive win in the history of the program and paved the way for the program to win its first FIBA Gold.
Barrett and Wiggins
The natural comparison is Andrew Wiggins because of the hype and the pedigree.
Wiggins was the No. 1-overall recruit in 2013 and eventually became the first overall pick in the NBA Draft after just one year of college. Barrett is the No. 1-ranked recruit for the lass of 2018 and is expected to be taken first overall if he enters the draft after his freshman season at Duke.
Barrett is a slightly better shooter from deep and plays with a higher motor than Wiggins did at the same age. Wiggins, however, was a freakishly athletic player with great second jump ability — although Barrett has tested as well if not better than Wiggins at every age category.
The real similarity is their upbringings. Both played other sports before focusing on basketball. Both are sons of former professional basketball playing fathers and track sprinter mothers raised by West Indian families in suburbs of Toronto. And both have been on the radar of NCAA coaches since they were in their early teens.
What will be truly scary if they both are playing together on the wing for Canada in the 2020 Olympics.
What it means for Canada Basketball
Canada Basketball has become a factory for pushing junior national team members not just to top NCAA programs but to productive NBA careers. Barrett joins a growing list of teenaged Canadians who have declared to big schools. The most recent notable commits include:
Cory Joseph – Texas
Tristan Thompson – Texas
Trey Lyles – Kentucky
Jamal Murray – Kentucky
Kelly Olynyk – Gonzaga
Dwight Powell – Stanford
Nik Stauskas – Michigan
Andrew Wiggins – Kansas
Dillon Brooks – Oregon
Khem Birch – UNLV
Tyler Ennis – Syracuse
Barrett now has his sights set on becoming the third Canadian to go first overall after Anthony Bennett and Wiggins.
What it means For Duke
Duke has done it again and is trying to out-Kentucky the Wildcats. Duke has signed the top high school basketball player for the third straight year as Barrett joins Harry Giles III in 2016 and Marvin Bagley III in 2017.
Duke can point to Jayson Tatum (third-overall pick in 2017), Brandon Ingram (second overall in 2016), Jahlil Okafor (No. 3 in 2015), Jabari Parker (No. 2 in 2014) and Kyrie Irving (first overall in 2011) as elite high-schoolers that made in to top lottery picks.
In the immediate future, Barrett is Duke’s third signee from the 2018 class, stockpiling the Blue Devils with top-end talent that includes shooting guard Cam Reddish (ranked third overall in the ESPN Top 100 recruits for 2018) and point guard Tre Jones (No. 10 on ESPN Top 100). With Barrett sliding in at the three, Mike Krzyzewski figures to have the best perimeter starting lineup in the college basketball.
The last Canadian player to play at Duke was Greg Newton from 1994-97. Newton was a teammate of Rowan Sr. on Canada’s 2000 Sydney Olympic team that took place shortly after R.J. was born.