R.J. Barrett is ready for the next step
R.J. Barrett is on track.
On Thursday, the 17-year-old high school senior took more hardware, this time the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award. It followed his Naismith High School Player of the Year honors, further establishing him as one of the most highly-touted prep ballers in recent history.
Barrett was surprised with the honor at a dinner Thursday by the 2016 winner, Jayson Tatum. The standout rookie for the Boston Celtics wanted to make clear he thinks Barrett is ahead of where he was at the same age.
"He’s more athletic than I was at that age, he's probably stronger than me," Tatum said on a conference call. "My advantage was that I’m a little taller, and my ability to score the ball was my strong suit ... he’s a great player and a great athlete. He’s a lot taller than I thought he was."
The 6-foot-7 Barrett, already the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, projects as a do-it-all wing. He's overtaken future college teammate Zion Williamson in terms of draft stock, but he has the benefit of a noteworthy support system. His dad, Rowan, was a one-time St. John's standout who played internationally and for many years with the Canadian national program. That lent itself to R.J. having a pretty cool godfather: Steve Nash, who still works closely with Rowan for Canada Basketball.
"He is a two-time MVP," Barrett said of Nash on Thursday. "So he has definitely helped me with the little things that have started to come my way. He can warn me about things that are coming up, and he has just been there to help me when I need it."
Canada producing blue-chip hoops talent is becoming commonplace. Five years ago, Andrew Wiggins set the prep circuit on fire, but conventional wisdom today predicts Barrett as a better prospect. As a high schooler, Wiggins said he modeled his game after Kevin Durant. Today, Barrett says his favorite player has always been The King.
"My favorite player growing up was LeBron James," he said. "I love the way he plays. He shares the ball, he can score, he's dominant."
Dominating is something Barrett has done at the prep level. He averaged 28.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, two blocks, and 1.5 steals per game as a senior. And, last summer, he led the Canadian national team to its first-ever FIBA under-19 championship.
He joins Williamson and Cam Reddish in a stacked recruiting class at Duke next year, but isn't worried about fitting in with the pair.
"We talk every day about many different things, not always about basketball," Barrett said of the Snapchat group he's in with his future teammates. "I think the ways our games are set up, we're going to play well and feed off each other."