This weekend, one of John Calipari’s most coveted recruits will be on campus, and if things go well, the visit could jumpstart Kentucky’s haul in the 2018 class.
R.J. Barrett, the newly minted No. 1 player in 2018, begins his visit to Lexington tomorrow, the first of five official visits across the country. A month ago, the five-star wing from Canada reclassified from 2019, and with a decision expected in the early signing period, it’s more crucial than ever for Kentucky to make a good impression. Most eyes will be on the gridiron this weekend in the Bluegrass, but here are some reasons why it’s very important that the 6-7, 185 lbs. small forward/shooting guard from Ontario enjoys his time in Lexington.
Small Forward | 6-7 | 185 lbs.
Mississauga, Ont., CAN | Montverde
AAU: Team BBC
|ESPN||No. 1 | 1 SF||Top247||No. 2 | 2 SF|
|Rivals||No. 1 | 1 SF||Scout||No. 1 | 1 SF|
Barrett dominated the FIBA World Cup
Calipari knows firsthand how talented Barrett is because Barrett led Team Canada to a shocking upset over Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. Barrett put up 38 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists vs. the Americans, looking far and away the best player on the floor despite being two years younger than some of his competition. Afterwards, Calipari accepted the blame for not finding a way to shut Barrett down.
“R.J. (Barrett) had it going. I told the team after the game, I needed to try some different things — go zone, trap pick and roll, trap him,” Calipari said. “I kind of rode it because I thought we would figure out something, and that is my mistake. That’s not these kids’ mistake.”
“But, the reality was, one kid really went crazy, and then the rest of their kids did what they did, so hats off to them.”
Barrett led the FIBA World Cup in scoring, averaging 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. Canada ended up winning the gold medal, and Barrett tournament MVP.
In a class full of superstar wings, he’s No. 1
How good is Barrett? In a loaded class at a loaded position, he’s considered the best by three of four recruiting services. Barrett is ranked higher than both Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish, two superstars that most programs would build their teams around. ESPN’s Paul Biancardi said Barrett’s work ethic is what sets him apart.
“Barrett grabs the spot — for now. It is a tribute to the time he has put into his game. And now he’s getting the results. His performances have ranged from good to dominating. His production level is now something you can count on in terms of scoring and rebounding. He has become a versatile scorer, showing potential on the perimeter and inside the arc. That is incredibly appealing to NBA scouts.”
Yesterday, Biancardi ranked Barrett the number one high school player, regardless of class, ahead of Williamson, Reddish, and Bol Bol.
Duke’s after him too
Duke’s had all the momentum in recruiting as of late, and the last thing Kentucky needs is the Blue Devils landing another superstar. Most experts believe Duke leads for Barrett right now, but I think it’s very telling that Kentucky got the first visit. After this trip to Lexington, Barrett will travel to Duke (Sept. 8-10), Arizona (Sept. 15-17), Oregon (Sept. 22-24), and Michigan (Sept. 29-Oct. 1). Calipari setting the bar high will go a long way towards Kentucky landing Barrett, who could be a cornerstone of the 2018 class alongside Immanuel Quickley and (hopefully) Zion Williamson should he sign in the fall as planned.
R.J. stands for “Rowan Jr.”
I looked that up because it’s been killing me. Barrett’s dad, the original Rowan, played basketball at St. John’s before playing professionally, mostly overseas. He represented Canada in the 2000 Olympic games and the 1998 and 2002 FIBA World Championships. Now, Rowan Sr. is the executive vice president and assistant general manger of Canada Basketball, which brings me to my next point…
His godfather is Steve Nash
Rowan Sr. and Nash go way back, and played together on the 2000 Olympic team. In 2012, Nash was named the general manager of Canada Basketball and brought Rowan in as his assistant GM. How appropriate is it that the most famous Canadian basketball player of all time is the godfather of one of the brightest stars in the sport?
He’s a fan of Jamal Murray
Barrett is considered the best Canadian prospect since Jamal Murray, a comparison that could work out in Kentucky’s favor.
“Jamal is one of my friends and to watch him play for Kentucky was something special,” Barrett told ZagsBlog back in April. “He said he loved it. It helped him get to the league, so he’s thankful.”
What other Canadian with Kentucky ties does Barrett admire?
Drake. Good thing the rapper will be at Big Blue Madness in October. (Or so we’re hearing.) I’m sure Calipari would appreciate him giving Barrett and Zion Williamson a shoutout.