Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Canadian star R.J. Barrett talks Kentucky trip, upcoming visits
R.J. Barrett, the 6-foot-7 wing from Montverde (FL) Academy who is expected to be in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, took his first official visit to Kentucky this weekend after reclassifying to the Class of 2018.
“It was alright, I got meet to meet Coach Cal and learn about the school so it was good,” Barrett said Tuesday evening by phone.
“I just kind of went on a tour and watched practice and stuff.”
Kentucky and coach John Calipari have a recent history of recruiting Canadian players, including current freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, former guard Mychal Mulder and current Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray.
“[Calipari] told me how he loves Toronto and how he has Shai now and how all the Canadian guys work hard,” Barrett said. “He wants me to be one of his guys.”
As for what his role at Kentucky might be, “[Calipari] said he doesn’t know what his team is going to look like next year because they got so many players in and out, so he didn’t really tell me that much” about my role, Barrett said.
Barrett said he hasn’t spoken to Murray about Kentucky “but I probably will in the future.”
He’s also familiar with many of the team’s current players and spent time on his visit with Alexander and forwards P.J. Washington and Nick Richards.
“I know most of the guys on the team so it was cool hanging with those guys,” Barrett said.
Asked if the current players were actively recruiting him, he said, “Yeah, for sure. They told me it’s not easy. It gets you where you want to go so it’s not going to be easy.”
Barrett figures to be in the mix for the No. 1 pick in 2019 wherever he goes, but he’s aware that Kentucky regularly sends players to the lottery and the NBA Draft in general.
“I mean, for sure, they produce so many NBA players every year so that’s definitely a good thing,” he said.
Kevin Boyle, Barrett’s high school coach, says he should be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
“He’s right in that class [with the other top picks I have coached],” Boyle said of Barrett on The 4 Quarters Podcast. “Most of the guys [who become superstars] are all those wing guys that end up better in these drafts over the years. That’s why I’m saying he should be the number one pick in two years.”
Boyle, a former Naismith National Coach of the Year award winner, has coached multiple former top-3 NBA picks, including Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Joel Embiid, and D’Angelo Russell.
Barrett was named MVP of the FIBA U19 World Cup last month after leading Canada to its first-ever gold medal. He then took the rest of July off before announcing his decision to reclass.
Boyle said Barrett’s game is tailor-made for the NBA.
“[Today’s NBA is about] spreading the floor and shooters are leaving the lane open,” Boyle said. “If you can shoot, you’re getting a ton of money and it really opens the floor for a slicer, driver like R.J.”
Barrett has set four other official visits to Duke (Sept. 15), Arizona (Sept. 21), Oregon (Sept. 23) and Michigan (Sept. 29).
Asked if he it’s true that he grew up a Duke fan, he said, “Duke and Kentucky, they’re the best of the best so obviously I wanted to watch that.”
Duke has been on a roll of late, adding Marvin Bagley for 2017 after he reclassed and also landing 2018 guards Tre Jones and Cam Reddish.
“Oh yeah for sure, they got a good team,” he said of Duke. “They’re always going to be good.”
He broke down his other options, too:
Arizona: “They’ve just been talking to the coaching staff. I don’t really know much, so I’m just going to take the visit to learn more.”
Oregon: “I have more relationships with the guys at Oregon, like Abu [Kigab’s] at Oregon right now. Dillon Brooks went there, so they’ve been talking to me a little bit about it.”
Michigan: “They like to play with big guards. I’m a big guard and I would get to play and get better there, too.”
Asked if he hopes to decide by November’s early signing period, he said, “Yes sir, that’s the plan.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.