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

North Island Eagles minor rep ockey organization hand out year-end awards in Port McNeill

It was quite the season and then some for minor rep hockey here in the North Island.

North Island resident to campaign on climate, economy for Liberal Party seat in Ottawa

Peter Schwarzhoff joins race for the second time in North Island-Powell River riding

Press release: Port Alice Health Centre service model announced

“a sustainable and dependable model of health care service delivery in Port Alice is a priority”

First annual Pride Day coming to Port Hardy in August

Pride contributes to a more inclusive and safe community for LGBTQ+ identifying individuals.

Blaney plan helps seniors late with taxes

Simple solution to important issue: North Island-Powell River MP

QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Victoria Day

How much do you know about the monarch whose day we celebrate each May?

Top women’s hockey player Natalie Spooner coming to B.C.

Natalie Spooner special guest at annual Grindstone charity weekend in Kelowna

Take-home drug testing kits latest pilot to help curb B.C.’s overdose crisis

Researchers look to see if fentanyl testing could be a useful tool for those who use drugs alone

Facebook takes down anti-vaxxer page that used image of late Canadian girl

Facebook said that the social media company has disabled the anti-vaccination page

Search crews rescue kids, 6 and 7, stranded overnight on Coquitlam mountain

Father and two youngsters fall down a steep, treacherous cliff while hiking Burke Mountain

Raptors beat Bucks 118-112 in 2OT thriller

Leonard has 36 points as Toronto cuts Milwaukee’s series lead to 2-1

‘Teams that win are tight’: B.C. Lions search for chemistry at training camp

The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players

Rescue crews suspend search for Okanagan kayaker missing for three days

71-year-old Zygmunt Janiewicz was reported missing Friday

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Most Read