New York Knicks rookie RJ Barrett announced Wednesday morning that he plans to play for Canada’s basketball team as they attempt to qualify for the Olympics next summer, joining fellow Canadians Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jamal Murray, Chris Boucher and Dillon Brooks.
“One-hundred percent I’m playing this summer,” the Mississauga, Ontario native told reporters. “I want to play for Canada any time I can.”
The phenom delivered the news Wednesday morning in Toronto as the Knicks prepare to play his boyhood team the Raptors later that evening. FIBA also announced Wednesday that Canada has been selected to host an Olympic qualifying competition in Victoria, B.C. The victors in the six-team group will qualify for one the remaining four spots in the 2020 games.
Canada missed their chance to qualify for the Olympics this past summer when they were knocked out of the group stages of the FIBA World Cup. Seven players consequently dropped out from the event, with Barrett being one of them.
This is certainly not the first time Barrett will be suiting up for his home country. The former Duke Blue Devil led Team Canada to their first-ever gold medal at the 2017 FIBA U-19 Basketball World Cup in Cairo, Egypt, even earning an MVP honor in the process. Prior to his freshman year in North Carolina, Barrett also played for Canada in an effort to help them qualify for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Breaking Down Team Canada’s Roster
The 19-year-old will certainly be in good company when Team Canada reunites next year for a chance to attend their first Olympic games since 2000 in Sydney, Australia.
On Tuesday Denver Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray committed to playing this summer as well.
“I wanted to get the word out early because I feel like I have a leadership role and want to let the other guys know I’m all in, I’m ready to play,” said Murray, via his agent Mike George to SportsNet. “I feel healthy and I’m ready to go ahead and try to help us qualify for the Olympics.”
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker also happily announced their intentions later on that day.
Toronto native Gilgeous-Alexander was selected number 11 overall by the Thunder in the 2018 NBA Draft. In his sophomore season at Chesapeake Energy Arena, he is averaging 19.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists on 40.3 percent shooting from deep for his side.
Miami Heat star Kelly Olynyk, Sacramento Kings player Cory Joseph, and Orlando Magic forward Khem Birch were a part of this summer’s original FIBA roster, so Canada already has the makings of an incredibly gifted slew of men ready to be one of the more threatening sides in the tournament.
The First of Many Homecomings for Barrett
Barrett was initially ruled as questionable for Wednesday’s game against Toronto, but it’s looking like he might suit up to play his hometown team for the first time in his career after all.
“Can’t miss tomorrow night,” Barrett affirmed, per SportsNet New Yok’s Ian Begley. “I got to go play for everybody I love.”
Barrett has been battling an illness as of late, but even Knicks head coach David Fizdale said he’d be ready by game time.
“I think it’s just a matter of him feeling better in general,” Fizdale said to the media following practice on Tuesday. “But I think he’ll be ready to go.”
Speaking on how much his return means to him, Barrett could not hold back his excitement.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to play in front of the crowd, to be back home. Haven’t gotten a lot of chances to play at home so for me it’s going to be exciting.”
Barrett, who was selected third overall by New York in this year’s NBA Draft, is averaging 15.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game so far in his debut season.