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.
How Duke commit R.J. Barrett can help lead Canada to Olympic medals in 2020 and 2024
Canada has only won one medal in Olympic basketball — and that was a silver back at the 1936 Games in Berlin.
The Canucks finished fourth in 1976 and 1984. They did not even qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
But with Duke-bound R.J. Barrett and a wave of young talent on the way up, Canada is eyeing the 2020 and 2024 Olympics for potential medals.
“In 2020 there could be 20 [Canadian] guys in the NBA,” Toronto Raptors analyst Leo Rautins told The 4 Quarters Podcast. “By 2024, if everybody’s healthy and you have some longevity and the new guys continue to develop, you may have 30 guys in the NBA. So by 2024, they’re going to have this pool. You’re going to have this ability to have two teams to come up with one outstanding National Team. And that’s where to me it’s going to get really exciting.”
Barrett, who committed to Duke over Kentucky and Oregon on Friday, is the projected No. 1 pick in 2019. He would become Canada’s third overall No. 1 pick since 2013 following Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins.Even though Bennett became a bust, consider that Canada led opening-night NBA rosters this year with 11 international players — guys like Tristan Thompson (Cavaliers), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves), Kelly Olynyk (Heat), Cory Joseph (Pacers) and Dillon Brooks (Grizzlies).
“You have a pool of talent and that’s how you become successful in future years, so I think the future is extremely bright for Canada on the international scale,” Rautins said.
Barrett, who led Canada to a gold medal in the FIBA U19 World Championship in Egypt, would love to be a part of that future. And with his talent — he’s the son of former St. John’s standout Rowan Barrett Sr. — it’s not hard to see him assuming a leadership role down the road.
“You’re seeing that we have players and we can win,” Barrett told me in July. “We can beat the U.S. Just a statement that we’re working really hard and we’re up and coming.
In the coming years, Canada has a slew of young up and coming talent to add to the current pool, including Barrett, Kentucky freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Virginia Tech freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Arizona freshman Emmanuel Akot, Andrew Nembhard (committed to Florida), Simi Shittu (uncommitted), Iggy Brazdeikis (Michigan), Luguentz Dort (Arizona State) and Noah Kirkwood (Harvard).
Rautins pointed out that Canada now has an increasing pool of NBA talent, similar to the U.S.
“That’s one of the great things about the United States,” he said. “[National Team coach] Mike Kryzyewski has his 12 players, then he’s got a B team, the second group. They practice, they know the plays, they work against them. He’s got several hundred players that he can pick to put on that team because of the talent level. And they bring them together and give them that experience.
“Canada, to me, is going to be next to the United States in being able to put that kind of talent and athleticism on the floor. You’re going to have to make some tough decisions. Canada’s going to be in a position going forward where they’re going to be cutting NBA players. In the past Canada’s had some NBA players, we had an MVP in Steve Nash, an All-Star in Jamaal Magloire, but you just have some role players like Joel Anthony. Now you don’t have just role players…You have players [like Wiggins, Thompson, Olynyk, Joseph] that are making an impact in the league.”
With Barrett and the new wave on the come up, look for Canada to qualify for the Olympics and challenge for medals in 2020 and 2024.
“I mean,” Barrett told me, “we still got a lot of work to do before that happens but for sure to play on an Olympic team would be great.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.