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RJ Barrett’s trade to Raptors, Toronto homecoming is a full circle moment for Canadian forward | Sporting News Canada

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RJ Barrett achieved his lifelong dream of becoming an NBA player when the Knicks drafted him on June 20, 2019. Less than five years later, he realized a lifelong dream of becoming an NBA player for his hometown Raptors.

After four and a half years in New York City, Barrett, a native of Mississauga, Ontario, was a key piece in a trade that would send him to Toronto. And while all homecomings in the NBA are special, Barrett’s return home is especially meaningful.

From his upbringing as one of Canada’s best prospects to his place in a lineage of Canadian basketball royalty and his lifelong affinity for the Raptors, Barrett’s tenure in Toronto has all the makings of a fruitful one.

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RJ Barrett, the prospect

You don’t need to go far back to recall just how highly touted of a prospect Barrett was when coming out of Florida’s Montverde Academy. Whether it was Rivals, 247Sports or ESPN, Barrett was considered by nearly everyone as the top basketball recruit in the high school class of 2018.

Well before arriving at Duke, Barrett was even on the radar of the likes of LeBron James as the “kid from Toronto that’s possibly next.”

The hype around Barrett set a new high for a Canadian prep basketball standout. It didn’t take long for him to prove that it was real.

After sweeping national high school player of the year honors, Barrett immediately made his presence felt at Duke, scoring 33 points in his collegiate debut to again put NBA scouts on notice. After averaging 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as a freshman, there was very little doubt that he’d be a top-five pick.

Once Barrett was selected third overall by the Knicks in the 2019 NBA Draft, he made sure to represent his roots.

Canadian basketball lineage

The 2019 NBA Draft was especially memorable in that several players shared emotional moments with their families. When Barrett’s name was called, he shared an especially moving moment with his father, Rowan Barrett Sr.

There is no Rowan Jr. (RJ) without Rowan Sr., who, after playing prep basketball in Canada, enjoyed a four-year career at St. John’s University before playing 11 seasons professionally while representing Canada internationally. Rowan Barrett’s time on Canada’s National Team coincided with the run of Steve Nash, who, in addition to being the greatest Canadian to play in the NBA, is also RJ’s godfather.

Months after RJ was born, the elder Barrett made his way to Sydney, Australia to represent Canada at the 2000 Summer Olympics alongside Nash. It currently stands as the last time that the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team played at the Olympics.

In 2018, RJ Barrett would make his debut on the Senior Men’s National Team. A year later, his father succeeded Nash as General Manager of Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team. 

Fast forward to 2023, where Barrett stood alongside Dillon Brooks, Luguentz Dort, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dwight Powell as the starting unit for a Canada team that would win its first-ever medal at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics in the process.

24 years after his father and godfather had the privilege of representing Canada on the Olympic stage, Barrett is in line to do the same thing. Not only will Barrett be on the first Canadian Senior Men’s National Team to play in the Olympics in 2000, but he also has a chance to help lead Canada to its first Olympic medal since 1936.

RJ Barrett FIBA

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RJ Barrett, the Raptors fan

Barrett was born in Toronto in 2000, so his formative years coincided with some of the most impactful stretches in Raptors franchise history.

While Vince Carter was traded away from the Raptors in 2004, Barrett saw two seasons of Chris Bosh leading Toronto to the postseason before the DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry era took off. By then, he was 13 years old.

Even days before he heard his name called in the NBA Draft, Barrett made his allegiance known. With the Raptors facing the Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals, a 19-year-old Barrett referred to the team as “My Raps” as he picked them to win the title during an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take.”

And while he spent the first few years of his career playing for a divisional rival in New York, Barrett made it a point to ensure his trips to Toronto were extra special. Like his choice of footwear when making his professional debut at Scotiabank Arena.

RJ Barrett shoes

Now, Scotiabank Arena is home 41 nights a year, and the kid who once cheered for the Raptors is now a young NBA veteran who is a part of the franchise’s future.

The focus now shifts to doing his part to lead his Raps back to another championship.

“Who doesn’t want to come home?” Barrett said during his introductory press conference. “Who doesn’t want to come home and play in front of family and friends and try to get a team that I’ve always loved so much back to where they were in 2019?”

It’s a lofty goal, but early returns from the partnership suggest that the franchise is moving in the right direction.

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