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R.J. Barrett in the spotlight as Duke men's basketball opens Canada tour

R.J. Barrett is the centerpiece of Duke's freshman class and will get to play two games in his hometown of Mississauga.
R.J. Barrett is the centerpiece of Duke's freshman class and will get to play two games in his hometown of Mississauga.

Plenty of Canadians have made a name for themselves on the basketball court. 

Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins were good enough to warrant No. 1 overall selections in the 2013 and 2014 NBA drafts, respectively. Tristan Thompson got himself a championship ring with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. And Steve Nash won back-to-back NBA most valuable player awards and made the All-Star game eight times.

But even Nash has said that R.J. Barrett, the top recruit in the class of 2018 and his godson, has the potential to be the best ever from Canada. Thus, it is fitting that he will start his collegiate career just a few miles from home.

Barrett and Duke kick off their preseason tour Wednesday when they take on Ryerson at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga, Ontario—just outside Toronto—at 7 p.m. The Blue Devils will then continue the exhibition series at 6 p.m. Friday when they play Toronto in Mississauga before moving onto Montreal for a 3 p.m. Sunday contest against McGill at Place Bell in Laval, Quebec.

Although Barrett is just part of another top-ranked recruiting class for Duke, he is undoubtedly the focal point of the Blue Devil roster and will be in the spotlight throughout the week in his homeland.

"It’s going to be a lot of fun, I get to go home and play in front of all my family and friends with my brothers," Barrett said Friday on a conference call. "I just remember growing up and watching Andrew Wiggins, and I said that I wanted to do what he’s doing. Now, I am [representing Canada] and the younger generation is kind of looking at me."

Barrett and classmate Zion Williamson will make their Duke debuts this week, but another pair of Blue Devil freshmen will not. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski said Friday that No. 3 recruit Cameron Reddish is dealing with a strained groin and guard Tre Jones—younger brother of 2015 national champion Tyus Jones—has a lingering hip injury.

Both Reddish and Jones made the trip north of the border Monday and will be with their teammates for the entire tour despite not seeing any time on the hardwood.

"We’re allowed one tour every four years, and we haven’t taken one for a while because I’ve been the coach of our national team so the summers have been busy," Krzyzewski said Monday in Toronto. "But we’re excited about this team coming here. We have a lot of new guys."

It's not just about the young guys, however. Of the 10 healthy scholarship players for the tour, five are upperclassmen, headlined by likely starting center Marques Bolden.

Bolden, who fought through knee injuries during his first two collegiate seasons, began to show his potential late in the 2017-18 season. The DeSoto, Texas, native scored in 10 of Duke's last 11 games, shooting nearly 74 percent from the field.

“I feel like [this year will] be a lot different just because of my growth that I’ve had," Bolden said on Friday's call. "Coming in, a 17-year-old or 18-year-old me is a totally different person from me now, so I feel like it’s going to be an exciting year.”

Krzyzewski needs veterans Bolden and DeLaurier to provide the foundation for a team that is replacing its entire starting five from last year, including its most vocal leader in Grayson Allen.

"The main expectation is for them to play to the level of their talent and experience," Krzyzewski said Friday. "It’s pretty good for us to have juniors in our program who are that talented and know us."

Still, the winningest coach in all of college basketball can't say enough about Barrett. And like most of the Canadian fans in attendance this week, Krzyzewski has his eyes on his star freshman.

"He’s such an up-beat kid, and smart. Besides his ability, he has a passion to compete," Krzyzewski said of Barrett. "This young man has it. I love him, and I’m glad I’m going to have the opportunity to spend some time with him."

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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