July 22nd, 2024

Canada’s RJ Barrett applying lessons from FIBA World Cup to NBA’s New York Knicks

By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press on December 12, 2023.

New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) jumps past Toronto Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby (centre) and guard Dennis Schroder (right) during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Friday, December 1, 2023. Barrett can't help but smile when he talks about playing for Canada's men's basketball team at the 2024 Paris Olympics.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

RJ Barrett can’t help but smile when he talks about playing for Canada’s men’s basketball team at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be exciting,” Barrett said in a recent interview. “First time we’ve been there in 20-something years, so I’m just ready to go.

“Just enjoy the time with my guys. We did something special and we’re going to try to continue to do that.”

Barrett nailed the game-winning three-pointer to help Canada beat the United States 127-118 in overtime to win bronze at the FIBA World Cup on Sept. 10. It was the first-ever World Cup medal for Canada, which also earned a berth at the upcoming Paris Games.

The 23-year-old guard from Mississauga, Ont., finished with 23 points in the climactic game and said that his time representing Canada internationally is making him a better player in the NBA with the New York Knicks.

“You have to play differently in FIBA,” said Barrett. “An NBA game is a 48-minute game, so if you have a slow start, you can still come back and win a game but in FIBA you’ve got to be ready from the beginning of the game because it’s less time.

“I think that’s been something that’s helped me, get ready to go from tip-off.”

Barrett outplayed Knicks teammates Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, who played for the U.S. in that medal matchup. He hit 50 per cent of his field goal attempts in the game and combined with Dillon Brooks (39 points) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31 points) for 93 points as Canada won a medal at a major global tournament for the first time since the 1936 Summer Olympics.

He averaged 16.8 points, five rebounds and two assists over eight games at the World Cup in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. That has carried over to his season New York (13-9), where he’s averaged 19.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists over 17 games, including his 27 points, three rebounds and two assists in the Knicks’ 136-130 win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday.

“Each summer he’s come back to New York, developed further with the mental part, the confidence that he gained,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. “I thought he played really well for Team Canada, and I think that helped him like get off to a fast start now.

“The consistency in his shot is vastly improved. I know he’s put a lot of work into it. I think those experiences, they’re great for the player and I think he got a lot out of that.”

CANADIANS SOARING

Five Canadians scored 25 or more points on Monday night, the most to do it in a single night in the NBA. That includes Barrett’s 27 against Toronto.

Montreal’s Bennedict Mathurin had 30 in Indiana’s 131-123 win at Detroit, Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., led Denver past Atlanta with 29, Shaedon Sharpe of London, Ont., had 27 in Portland’s 132-127 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and Hamilton’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 30 in Oklahoma City as the Thunder beat Utah 134-120.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s noteworthy performance came hours after he won the Northern Star Award, the Toronto’s Star’s annual prize for Canada’s athlete of the year.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, wearing a Wayne Gretzky Team Canada jersey after the game. “There’s so many guys that came before me, that I want to thank, that laid the foundation for me to excel, how I have, coming from Canada.

“It’s an honour, obviously, to represent the country and be noticed by the country where I was raised. It’s a great feeling and it’s an honour.”

RETURN TO FORM

Murray had a scary moment in the Nuggets’ win over the Hawks when he fell to the floor, clutching his left ankle. It was just his third game back after missing 12 of Denver’s last 13 games with a sprained right ankle. He recovered to add nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks to the 29 points he scored.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2023.

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