R.J. Barrett leads Canada to victory in national team debut
Teen phenom scores 16 points, adds 2 assists in rout of China
Things were a little different for R. J. Barrett.
The 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., is usually the best player on the floor. But in playing his first game with Canada's senior men's basketball team, Barrett found himself rubbing shoulders with NBA veterans and players that were bigger, stronger and faster.
Barrett still didn't look out place, scoring 16 points and adding a pair of assists as Canada defeated a team from China 97-62 in the opening game of the Pacific Rim Basketball Classic.
"It's a different experience but it's a lot of fun," said the six-foot-seven guard who also had four rebounds and two steals. "I think I played OK.
"I was just trying to get used to the physicality and the speed of the game. Everybody is stronger. You have to make decisions quicker."
The crowd of 7,636 at Rogers Arena didn't have long to wait for Barrett to put on a show.
On the opening possession he moved the ball down the court, drove the basketball and scored on a falling layup. Later in the quarter he had the fans on their feet with a two-handed dunk on a fast break.
Head coach Jay Triano liked what Barrett showed.
"I thought he was great," said Triano. "Defensively there are a few things he has to get better at, as far as his awareness off the basketball.
"He's electric when he's got the basketball. He's got a great feel for the game, he knows how to get to the basket. He can make shots, he made plays for other people."
NBA on the horizon
Barrett has attended high school in Florida and will play NCAA basketball at Duke University this year. There already is speculation he could be the top pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
"You can't look too far forward," said Barrett. "You have to focus on getting into Duke, trying to win a national championship."
A day that started badly for Chris Boucher ended on a better note after he was named player for the game. The six-foot-10 forward from Montreal, who was waived earlier Friday by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, had 17 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Boucher spent most of the year rehabbing a torn ACL and played just one game with Golden State. He's happy for the opportunity being given him by the national team.
"It's just making me put more effort in," he said. "I have a lot of stuff I had to go through.
"Just having an opportunity to play again, I'm putting all my energy in and just seeing what happens."
Boucher brings element of surprise
Triano likes Boucher's versatility.
"I don't think people expect he can shoot the ball really well," said Triano. "He brings another dimension for us.
"We can switch him on the guards. He can keep them in front, block shots and protect at the rim and stretch the floor."
Canada controlled the game from the start, leading 52-31 at half time and 83-48 after three quarters. Tempers flared in the fourth quarter when Chinese coach Feng Du and Canada's Anthony Bennett were both ejected from the game.
Canada opened the game with a lineup that included Barrett plus NBA players like seven-foot centre Kelly Olynyk of the Miami Heat plus forwards Dillion Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies and Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks.
Brooks led Canada with 21 points including going five for seven on three-point attempts.
After starting Olynyk, from Kamloops, B.C, was used sparingly scoring four points in 10 minutes of play.
Triano, an assistant coach the NBA Charlotte Hornets, was happy with his team's performance.
"I liked the fight we had," he said. "The energy was good. We played a lot of guys and I think a lot of guys played well."
Warmup for World Cup qualifying
Canada and China will play again Sunday at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria.
The two-game series is a warmup as Canada prepares for World Cup qualifying matches against the Dominican Republic on Friday at Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum and the U.S. Virgin Islands July 2 at Ottawa's TD Place.
Canada has a 3-1 record in Group D of the American Qualifiers which also consists of the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each team faces the other three teams on a home and away basis with the top three teams from each group advancing to the second round.
Canada can secure first place in the group by beating the Dominican Republic by at least 12 points and scoring a win over the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The next round of qualifying continues with games in September, November and February 2019.
The last time Canada qualified for the World Cup was 2010.