The competitive fire was flaming hot, even if it was a friendly shootout between New York Knicks starting wing RJ Barrett and Oklahoma City Thunder’s All-NBA guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander during Team Canada’s first practice ahead of the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
The 25-year-old Gilegous-Alexander outdueled the 24-year-old Barrett, the two pillars of the best Canadian team ever assembled.
Thanks to RJ’s father, Rowan Barrett, Canada Basketball’s general manager, who was a member of the last Canadian team that played in the Olympics in 2000.
“Yeah, [RJ] has no choice,” Gilgeous-Alexander joked with the Canadian reporters after Tuesday’s practice, referring to Rowan’s son’s commitment to the national team.
The Knicks missed the chance of pairing the two Canadians when they selected Gilgeous-Alexander’s Kentucky teammate Kevin Knox at No. 8 in the 2018 NBA Draft. Charlotte selected Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 but quickly swapped him with Miles Bridges at No. 12 and two second-round picks from Los Angeles Clippers.
After a promising rookie season with the Clippers, Gilgeous-Alexander was shipped to Oklahoma City, where he blossomed into an All-NBA guard, as part of the Paul George trade.
Barrett and Gilgeous-Alexander go a long way, developing a bond when they were teenagers during Canada’s failed quest to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Now, they are the faces of Canada basketball, alongside Denver Nuggets’ freshly-minted NBA champion point guard Jamal Murray, whose minutes will be monitored according to Rowan Barrett.
On top of trying to lead Canada to the medal rounds in the World Cup and claim a spot for next year’s Paris Olympics, Barrett is also using the upcoming tournament as a springboard to the next NBA season when his four-year, $107 million (could go up to $120 million including bonuses) kicks in.
The dynamic backcourt tandem of Gilgeous-Alexander and Murray should give Barrett plenty of reps as an off-ball wing, much like his role with the Knicks behind Jalen Brunson and two-time All-Star forward Julius Randle on the offense.
“We have to build an identity as a group, and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Canada head coach Jordi Fernandez, an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings in the NBA, told Canadian reporters. “I think if you see not just the commitment but the sacrifice that these guys are making, it means a lot for what we’re trying to do. The first practice was very competitive.”
Jalen Brunson Moves Up Wedding Date for Team USA
Brunson had to make a small sacrifice, moving up his wedding date to fulfill his commitment to the FIBA World Cup-bound Team USA.
“Originally, the wedding was supposed to be Labor Day, I think that’s September 2nd,” Brunson told PEOPLE. “That was the original date of the wedding, but my fiancée was so great helping move it because now it allows me to play for USA basketball this summer.”
Brunson, who married his high school sweetheart Ali Marks in a lavish ceremony over the weekend in Chicago, is expected to lead a young American team in the world championships in Manila, Philippines, later this month.
Josh Hart Expected to Get Contract Extension This Week
Josh Hart is widely expected to get his contract extension this week before he and Team USA fly to Spain and Abu Dhabi next week for tuneup games for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
“Josh Hart has not signed his extension yet, but Josh Hart has committed to Team USA. A whole bunch of guys on Team USA have signed extensions. Part of the reason why they’re on the team is because they’re in good positions with their contract. [Tyrese] Haliburton, [Anthony] Edwards, Austin Reaves…a bunch of other guys are in the middle of long-term contracts,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on his Hoop Collective podcast. “I would be very surprised if [Hart] doesn’t have an extension by this week.”