The hype says R.J Barrett will be the best Canadian to ever play basketball. That's a tall order as Hall Of Famer, Steve Nash hails from the Great White North and was able to grab two MVP's and eight all-star selections in a career that saw him go 50/40/90 in four seasons. But chasing Nash suits Barrett just fine. After all, Steve Nash is Barrett's godfather.
So what does the Hall of Famer tell his godson?
"Basically, just working hard. He said he's just a regular guy from British Columbia, you know. He had to work hard. He had to plan and just out work everybody," Barrett says.
Working hard comes easy to RJ. The lefty's passion for the game saw him knocking on his middle school's door at 6:45 a.m. every morning. The principle would unlock the gym to allow the rapidly growing seventh grader to practice before school.
RJ remembers, "If he wasn't there [that early], I don't how many extra reps I would have gotten in. So, it definitely helps a lot." It also helps that his middle school principal speaks French.
RJ Barrett receives careful guidance from his father, Rowan Barrett, who played professionally in France. That's where the budding Canadian superstar grew up before moving to Mississauga, Canada. It was here, in his adopted basketball home, that he took an English class for the first time. But you wouldn't know that English is his second language by talking to him. The affable 18-year-old is all smiles, but he talks about basketball with a certain sternness.
All those early morning reps seemed to have paid off and he's got the accolades to prove it. He's already received the Jordan Brand Classic International MVP, the FIBA under-19 World Cup MVP, a McDonald's All-American nod, the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and the Gatorade National Player of the Year. But it's the Harry Jerome Award for athletic excellence that may be most telling. The prestigious African-Canadian accolade is usually reserved for somebody much older and further into their careers. RJ Barrett is commanding respect and speeding up his maturation with every rep.
It's easy to see why the young lefty is being hyped as the next Lebron James. He's already led the Canadian national team to a historic victory over the United States before defeating Italy to grab the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup gold medal. It's the first basketball gold medal for Canada in any international competition.
RJ Barrett's dominance on the world stage has captured the attention of the basketball world, and he's made his intentions clear to the media. "It's pretty simple. Go to college then go to the NBA to be a star," he said nonchalantly into a picket fence of microphones.
With his sights set on the NBA, it's easy to understand why the 6-foot-7 youngster would skip out of high school a year early. He'll land in the NBA sooner.
Reclassifying for 2018 sent the college basketball world into a state of hysteria. After all, he's joined an elite group of players that have received the Naismith Boy's High School Player of the Year Award like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. He became heavily recruited by Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon, Texas and UCLA before selecting Duke to be his one-year jump-off point to the NBA.
RJ Barrett, the projected number one overall NBA draft pick in 2019, stays humble. When asked about the impressive golden trophies that he's collected in his bedroom in Mississauga, he says, "I don't think it really has sunk in yet. I don't know, I had so many goals. I was able to achieve them, and I'm really happy, but there's so much more that I have to do."
And soon, he'll be coming for the NBA.