Jay Triano recalls a Canadian basketball team practice he was coaching in 2012. Steve Nash was at the opposite end of the court working with a 12-year-old boy and the scene caught Triano’s eye. The boy was R.J. Barrett. Canada’s R.J. Barrett (5) looks to pass as China’s Dehao Yu (8) defends during second half Pacific Rim Basketball Classic action in Vancouver on Friday, June 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

R.J. Barrett emerges on Canada’s senior squad

Canada hosts the Dominican Republic on Friday in Toronto, then the U.S. Virgin Islands Monday in Ottawa.

Jay Triano recalls a Canadian basketball team practice he was coaching in 2012. Steve Nash was at the opposite end of the court working with a 12-year-old boy and the scene caught Triano’s eye.

The boy was R.J. Barrett.

“We were just like OK, (Barrett’s) got a chance to be really good,’” Triano marvelled. “And sure enough, he’s just kept getting better and better and better.”

Triano has Barrett, who just turned 18, under his guidance with the Canadian senior men’s team for the first time ahead of two World Cup qualifying games. Canada hosts the Dominican Republic on Friday at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum, then the U.S. Virgin Islands on Monday in Ottawa.

The team practised Wednesday at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, and it wasn’t lost on Triano that he’d coached Barrett’s dad Rowan, who paced the sidelines of Wednesday’s practice as the assistant GM of the men’s program.

R.J. was born in June of 2000, just three months before Triano coached Rowan, Nash & Co. at the Sydney Olympics.

“I think we let Rowan miss practice one day so he could be around for the birth of his child,” Triano laughed. ”His child happens to be on the court right now. It ages us real quick.”

Barrett made his senior team debut in a pair of exhibition wins over China last weekend, finishing with 37 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in the two games combined, and playing with the self-assurance of a veteran.

“He’s really good. Super talented. He’s a freak athletically,” said Miami Heat centre Kelly Olynyk. ”He sees the game really well, has a vast skill set — which is going to help him — and if he just keeps growing and keeps growing… Right now he’s an unbelievable player, but if he makes everyone around him that much better, he’s going to be one of those guys who’s unstoppable and a franchise person who’s at a high level for basketball.”

Barrett, a crafty left-handed wing from Mississauga, Ont., said his game can only get better playing for Canada ahead of his freshman season at Duke.

“It’s very different, different speed, different physicality. Even mentally you have to learn a lot of plays. It’s just a lot different playing with men than playing with younger people,” Barrett said. “Really, (I’m) just trying to gain a competitive advantage over people, other freshmen maybe that are going into college next year. Not a lot of people have played at the men’s level, I’m playing with NBA guys every day, so not a lot of people can say that.”

READ MORE: Canada sweeps Pacific Rim Basketball Classic

Those NBA guys, meanwhile, have watched Barrett grow up.

“He had feet that couldn’t fit his body, he had big floppers, running around, flopping around with his feet,” Cory Joseph laughed, describing a younger Barrett. ”He was always talented. I just remember his dad putting him through drills and working with him and always playing with the older guys for countless hours. He loved the gym, loved to work and I just see how good he is now and he’ll just continue to get better.”

Barrett’s jump to the senior squad comes on the heels of an eye-popping high school campaign. He led Florida’s Montverde Academy to a 31-0 record, and was named the Gatorade U.S. national player of the year, the U.S. high school title, the Naismith Prep Player of the Year, and the MVP of the Nike Hoop Summit.

Last summer, Barrett led Canada to a historic victory at the U19 world championships, earning MVP honours.

Triano likes Barrett’s coachability.

“He’s got a competitiveness in him that he wants to be good, so anything we ask of him or we tell him, he takes it in and he applies it. He spends a lot of time getting better and he’s had good coaching in the past, and he seems very open to coaching,” he said.

“He’s got a little bit of that … as they call it, the dog in him. He’s got that. He’s got that ability. When the game comes on, or if it’s a competitive situation, he’s going to go all out.”

Canada takes a 3-1 record into its final two games of the first round of qualifying. The Canadians, who are looking for their first World Cup berth since 2010, have already clinched a spot in the second round which will see games in September, November and February.

FIBA drastically changed qualifying criteria, which for Canada used to mean earning a top spot in the FIBA Americas tournament often held in a far-flung location.

So the Canadian players are cherishing the chance to play meaningful games at home. And Triano said Barrett’s emergence on the senior level, particularly in front of a home crowd, comes at the perfect time.

“When we’ve watched his progression over the last couple years, we’ve known that he was going to be part of the national team and he was going to have a great basketball career in front of him. The fact that it’s happening now is good for us,” Triano said. “We’re playing in our country, he gets a chance to play in his home city, which is great, and he’s been really good so far.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Let the Games begin!

Team Alberta takes home gold and silver in speed skating on day one

WATCH: Historic night in Red Deer as 2019 Canada Winter Games kicks off

Star-studded Opening Ceremony features athletes from across Canada

Athletes’ medals unveiled at the official kick-off of 2019 Canada Winter Games

Medals depict Central Alberta landscape and pay tribute to First Nations

Alix resident captures beams of light near Lacombe

Lacombe, Blackfalds, Red Deer photos have since gone viral around the world

WATCH: Canada Winter Games are finally here

Final leg of torch relay kicked off at Fort Normandeau

Fashion Fridays: Up your beauty game

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Team Alberta adds nine medals on day two of competition at Canada Winter Games

Team Alberta had a solid day at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer

Cabinet likely to extend deadline to reconsider Trans Mountain pipeline

New round of consultations with Indigenous communities is coming

PHOTOS: Canada Games action from the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre

Wheelchair basketball, short-track speedskating draw large crowds

Disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner released from prison

He was convicted of having illicit online contact with a 15-year-old North Carolina girl in 2017

Jason Kenney pledges education revamp if UCP wins power in Alberta

Kenney has said the full United Conservative platform will be rolled out during the campaign

Ontario police field complaints over Amber Alert for missing girl, 11, found dead

Some said the Amber Alert issued late Thursday for Riya Rajkumar disrupted their sleep

‘Mitts don’t just warm hands. They warm hearts’: Mitts for Many Program launches

Donate new or lightly used mittens to bin in the Great Hall of the Gary W. Harris Centre

Most Read