UK Men's Basketball

There’s a clear No. 1 basketball recruit in the 2019 class, and UK is watching

Canada native RJ Barrett is in his sophomore season at Montverde Academy in Florida.
Canada native RJ Barrett is in his sophomore season at Montverde Academy in Florida. AP

One of the sideshows to last weekend’s NBA All-Star festivities in New Orleans was the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp, an event that brought together more than 40 high-school aged international players for a combine of on-court activities with league personnel watching.

Though he was one of the youngest competitors, R.J. Barrett was the clear standout, earning camp MVP honors as well as praise from analysts in attendance.

“He has such good size for a potential shooting guard,” Scout.com’s Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s long, he’s athletic. He’s a talented scorer that can score the ball in a variety of ways. The scary thing is, there’s still room for improvement.

“At this point, he’s a below-average shooter, and I think he’s the type of kid — with his work ethic — that he’s going to continue to get better at it. He can just impact the game in so many ways. … He has all the tools you’re looking for when you’re evaluating wing players.”

Scout.com — and every other major recruiting service — ranks Barrett as the No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2019.

The 6-foot-8, lefty shooting guard from Mississauga, Ontario, averaged 18.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for the Team Canada U17 squad at last summer’s FIBA world championships. He was one of the youngest players there, too.

Barrett is playing his high school ball at Montverde Academy (Fla.), and the decision to relocate for his prep career is not one that his family took lightly.

Rowan Barrett, the player’s father and a former St. John’s standout and longtime pro, said they had planned to keep R.J. in Canada for high school, but the opportunity arose to attend Montverde, and the family received rave reviews from Chris Egi, another Canadian prospect who played for the school recently.

The Barretts liked the academic profile at Montverde — R.J. is an honor-roll student there — and few high school coaches in the country can match the credentials of Kevin Boyle, whose recent players have included the likes of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kyrie Irving, Dakari Johnson, D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons.

“We felt it was important to be challenged daily,” Rowan Barrett told the Herald-Leader. “That’s something that’s great for young athletes, especially ones that are noticed much earlier in their careers.”

R.J. Barrett will play on the Nike circuit this summer

The elder Barrett, who is also the assistant general manager and executive VP of the Canadian national team, said the environment at Montverde is such that all the early attention won’t go to R.J.’s head. The budding superstar is already being billed as one of the greatest Canadian basketball players ever, but he won’t even turn 17 until June.

“I think one really good thing is the coaching staff there has handled many athletes. They’re definitely not awestruck by anything,” said Rowan Barrett. “They have a really good understanding of player development. And it’s competitive. There are other players in the gym that can play. So, if you don’t come to practice, you’re going to get embarrassed.

“While he is doing well and hitting some of the short-term goals and some of the markers we’ve set out for, he really hasn’t accomplished anything yet. And he understands that.”

Per NCAA rules, college coaches aren’t allowed to directly contact prospective recruits until June 15 before their junior year, so R.J. will have to wait another few months before getting to know the biggest names in college basketball.

His phone will surely be blowing up once that date comes. His father has already heard from a host of major programs, and Kentucky is one of them.

Rowan Barrett said UK’s coaches have indicated that they “clearly, clearly have interest” in his son’s recruitment, and Coach John Calipari watched him play last month.

It sounds like the Barretts will also have some interest in the Wildcats once the time comes to get more serious about his recruitment.

“Obviously, John Calipari is a Hall of Fame coach, and you start there,” Rowan Barrett said. “They have a lot of top-level players there each year, which makes it really, really competitive. And Cal’s focus — obviously, every NCAA coach is thinking about winning — but he seems to be really trying to help the athlete become everything he can be individually, while trying to make the team successful, too.

“And, obviously, there are a lot of NBA players that attest to that and were very happy with their time at Kentucky. I think that’s a great thing.”

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