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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.
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Monday / December 17.
  • Bill Self says Team USA wanted another shot at R.J. Barrett after Calipari-coached team lost

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIOBill Self was hoping Team USA would get another shot at Duke-bound phenom R.J. Barrett.

    Barrett and Team Canada eliminated the John Calipari-led USA team last year in the FIBA U19 World Championship in Cairo, Egypt by authoring a LeBron-esque 38-point, 13-rebound, 5-assist game in the semifinals.

    The 6-foot-7 Barrett and Canada went on to win gold, and Self was hoping for a shot at redemption this week at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship here in Barrett’s home country.

    But alas, Barrett is training in Los Angeles with other future NBA prospects before heading to Duke at the end of the month and is not with the Canadian U18 side.

    “We were all hoping that [Barrett] would play,” Self told me Sunday night after he coached Team USA to a convincing 105-73 victory over the Dominican Republic behind Cole Anthony’s 18 points. “One, he’s an unbelievable talent and two, he got the better of the team last year so it would be nice to kind of compete against that.”

    Without Barrett, Florida-bound point guard Andrew Nembhard, Barrett’s teammate at Montverde (FL) Academy and with UPlay Canada, is Canada’s alpha dog. He went for 28 points and 6 assists in Canada’s opening win over Argentina, and said more players are getting to shine now in Barrett’s absence.

    Self, who spoke with Rowan Barrett, R.J.’s father and the executive director of Canada Basketball, understands that Barrett has essentially moved on after winning a U19 World title last summer.

    “Kids reach a certain point where they have to do what’s best for them based on their own personal schedule and things like that and I think that we would love to have him playing but our guys will be excited to play Canada regardless of whether he was here or not,” Self said.

    Self knows all about the rising force that is Canadian basketball, having coached former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins at Kansas during the 2013-14 season. Wiggins famously picked Kansas over Kentucky and Florida State, among others.

    Like Wiggins, Barrett is the projected No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft after what is expected to be a one-and-done season at Duke under Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski. 

    “There will probably be some similarities as far as what they expect,” Self said. “R.J. has a ton of hype going to college, a ton. But Andrew was maybe even a different level even just the hype. I could be wrong but R.J. may be getting a lot more hype if Andrew didn’t come before him. But they’re both terrific players.

    “I think R.J. has more of an assassin-type mentality at that stage, but there wasn’t a better young person to coach than Andrew Wiggins. He was a 10….Andrew’s a special kid but he’s a special person also.”

    Canada continues to produce NBA-level talent with guys like Barrett, Nembhard, Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Vanderbilt-bound forward Simi Shittu as the next wave. Self says recruiting is cyclical and right now the Toronto area is churning out elite prospects at a high rate.

    “Everything is cyclical in recruiting,” Self said. “There was a time where Seattle had the best players per capita without question. And I think you could make  a case recently in Toronto that you could say per capita, Toronto has produced as many big-time guys as just about any city. I don’t know that the city can sustain that because Chicago’s going to have their crop, or New York or Atlanta or Detroit or whatever, but for a period of time I think Toronto has produced as many good ones as anybody.”

    That Canadian team could end up being Team USA’s biggest obstacle to a gold medal this week. Self concedes it would essentially be a failure if the Americans failed to come home with the gold again — after last year’s U19 deal.

    “I think anytime that we would go play, that would be our goal,” he said of winning gold. “I don’t think you ever if you’re the USA in basketball, you don’t set a goal not to do that. But to be candid with you, we haven’t seen all these teams. We certainly haven’t seen Canada , haven’t seen Argentina.

    “We’ll get a chance to scout today but there will be some teams that give us a problem based on how they play. But I think we got enough pieces and versatility that we should be able to grind through that.”

    Photo: USA Basketball

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    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.