Sidney Crosby. John Tavares. Connor McDavid.
You heard their names when they were children. Exceptional young players expected to become titans of their sports when they grew up and, as such, the spotlight was turned their way before they were old enough to shave. As their childhoods became adolescences and then adulthoods, each man thrived in that limelight, living up to the expectations placed upon them, rightly or wrongly.
Canadian sports fans are used to hockey wunderkinds. Every year another one seemingly pops onto the radar, but that type of prodigy in other sports is a rarity. R.J. Barrett is one of those rarities.
The son of Canadian men’s basketball team and current Canada Basketball executive Rowan Barrett, Rowan Junior could quite possibly be the best prospect that this nation has ever produced with no disrespect meant to the likes of Steve Nash or Andrew Wiggins.
On Friday, the 17-year-old native of Mississauga, Ont. – already the MVP of the 2016 Jordan Brand Classic - will reveal what college he will attend in the fall, his final step before the NBA Draft.
You can catch exclusive LIVE coverage of Barrett’s announcement from Lionhead Golf & Conference Centre in Brampton, Ont. during a special broadcast of SPORTSCENTRE with Nabil Karim and Leo Rautins at 6pm et/3pm pt.
Currently a student at Florida’s Montverde Academy outside of Orlando, the same school responsible for the likes of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and D’Angelo Russell, Barrett’s coming out party came in this past summer’s FIBA U19 World Cup, the first international tournament ever claimed by a Canadian team.
While Canada defeated Italy 79-60 in the final, it was the semifinal matchup with a United States team coached by Kentucky’s John Calipari – remember that, it will be important later – where Barrett made everybody take notice. Against the U.S., Barrett dropped 38 points and added 13 rebounds and five assists in a 99-87 upset.
“I just wanted to win the game, so if it was me scoring 38 points and or me having 10 assists and scoring 10 points, it’d be whatever the team needed,” a nonplussed Barrett told TSN.ca at the time. “It just happened to be the former that game and we won.”
For the tournament, Barrett averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 boards and 4.6 assists and was named MVP.
After that performance, Barrett reclassified to the 2018 NCAA class, a decision that his father explained in July would not be taken lightly.
“This year had made it clear there are no physical limitations for him,” the elder Barrett said. “The second part was just academically because there’s work you have to do to put yourself in position to leave early, like getting your SATs and making sure you have the right core average to qualify in the NCAA and all those kind of things. That’s where we are right now and he’s done all the requisite work, so now we kinda have to go back and look at all the pros and cons, write them out, look at them and make sure he understands them. Ultimately, he’s going to be the one to make the decision and have to live with it.”
In joining the 2018 class, Barrett surged to the top of it. ESPN’s recruiting database has Barrett as its No. 1, ahead of the highly rated Zion Williamson, the player most expect Barrett to vie against to be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Despite offers from a laundry list of top programs including Arizona, Kansas, Michigan and UCLA, Barrett has narrowed his destination down to three schools: Oregon, Duke and the aforementioned Kentucky.
Having coached against Barrett in the summer, Calipari has seen the young small forward’s abilities firsthand and paid a recruiting visit to Florida to see him in September. It couldn’t hurt the Wildcats’ chances to land Barrett that close friend Jamal Murray recently played under Calipari and thrived.
“John Calipari’s a great guy,” the elder Barrett told the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Ben Roberts in July. “I don’t think we need to waste a whole lot of time talking about coaching, because clearly he knows what he’s doing between the lines. It seems that he knows how to get out the talent that’s inside the athlete that he coaches, which is important as well. And, obviously, they win a lot.”
Calipari currently has 26 former Wildcats in the NBA with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns among them. To say that Calipari, who led the Wildcats to the 2012 NCAA Championship, has a knack for turning good young prospects into professionals is an understatement, but there might be a coach out there who’s even better at it.
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is a living legend. Only the iconic John Wooden has won more NCAA titles than Coach K’s five. Heading into his 38th season at the helm of the Blue Devils, Krzyzewski has sent 56 players to the NBA from his Duke teams. The likes of Grant Hill, Kyrie Irving, JJ Redick, Shane Battier and Carlos Boozer were Krzyzewski’s charges.
It would be difficult to turn away the chance to learn from the master and, if Barrett were to head to Durham, he’d link up with Cam Reddish, the No. 3 recruit in the 2018 class, who’s already committed to the Blue Devils. Tre Jones, the younger brother of former Blue Devil Tyus Jones, has also committed to next fall’s class. Barrett met with Coach K in Florida in October.
If Oregon seems like an odd fit for Barrett considering that it doesn’t possess the pedigree that Kentucky and Duke do, it’s not. While Dana Altman led the Ducks to the Final Four for the first time in nearly 80 years last spring (with a team featuring fellow Mississauga native Dillon Brooks, now of the Memphis Grizzlies), it’s a friendship that could bring Barrett to Eugene. Freshman forward and St. Catharines, Ont. native Abu Kigab played alongside Barrett on the U19 team and remains a close pal of his. Heading to the Ducks would give Barrett the opportunity to play with his friend once again.
The Barretts are keeping R.J.’s choice close to the vest. Not even the schools in question reportedly know which way Barrett is leaning. In fact, it can’t even be said for certain that Barrett has made up his mind yet. Whichever direction Barrett decides to go, then, marks the next stage in what should be a process that leads R.J. Barrett to the pro game and the opportunity to become the next prodigious talent to make good on the early hype.
Sidney Crosby. John Tavares. Connor McDavid. R.J. Barrett.
Learn his name and prepare to remember it.