Like father, like son: R.J. and Rowan Barrett

Canadian basketball phenom R.J. Barrett’s trophy case is running out of room.

This year alone, the senior at Florida’s Montverde Academy has been dubbed the No. 1 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, a McDonald’s All-American, the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

R.J. Barrett is projected to be the best basketball player out of Canada since Andrew Wiggins and is expected to be Canada’s third first overall pick. Some have even gone so far to say he will approach the achievement of five-time NBA All-Star Steve Nash, who happens to be his godfather. 

“I don’t think it really has sunk in yet … I had so many goals and I was able to achieve them and I was really happy but there’s so much more that I have to do,” R.J. said in an interview with CBC’s Dwight Drummond.

Perhaps his biggest accomplishment to date is leading Canada to a historic win over the U.S. at the FIBA U19 World Cup, before beating Italy to win Canada’s first ever gold medal in international competition.

“I mean everything that’s happened this year has been great, I enjoyed the ride, but it really all started when, you know, playing for my country,” he said.

He’s decided to go to Duke University, after being offered several athletic scholarships, and could declare for the NBA draft after one year of college. 

Like father, like son

The 17-year-old, who hails from Toronto, may go by R.J., but his full name Rowan Barrett Jr. carries a lot of weight.

His dad, Rowan, is a Canadian Basketball icon who played alongside Steve Nash on the team that qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics – the last national team to play in the Olympic Games.

Rowan Barrett Sr., right, is embraced by teammate Steve Nash following a basket at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.(Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press)

Rowan also had a lengthy professional career in Europe, where R.J. spent much of his childhood watching his dad play and attempting to keep up.

“He would always be out on the court after the games, shooting, you know, coming in after practice,” said Rowan.

“The great thing was my professional team also had a club team at the lower ages and, while I was playing with the men, he was playing with the children.

“Same uniform as Dad, and everything else. He had the same number. It was good early beginnings for him.”

‘He would demand it’

Despite his success on the court, Rowan never pushed R.J. to follow in his footsteps.

“You would think because Rowan played professionally and had a chance at the NBA and played all over the world that he would push R.J., but R.J. would ask for it, he would demand it,” said Terry Upshaw, one of R.J.’s coaches.

“When I first met [the family] R.J. already had plans, he already had his dream board, he already knew his dream schools, he already knew his plan when a lot of eight-, nine-, 10-year-olds have no idea.”

Rowan said he didn’t know his son would be a star, but said R.J. made his intentions clear at a young age.

“He said, Dad, I want to make the Hall of Fame, I want to be an NBA champion, I want to be on the NBA All-Star team,'” Rowan said.

Rowan said he tried to temper his son, who was 11 at the time. He told him it would be a lot of work, a lot of early mornings and long days at the gym.

R.J. Barrett, left, now 17, has been winning medals and trophies since his family could remember.(CBC News)

R.J. said he was ready, so father and son took out a whiteboard and wrote a list of goals.

“His first goal was like ‘by the time I’m 13, Dad I want to be number one in Canada; by the time I’m 14, I want to be number one in Canada and top 10 in the United States,'” said Rowan.

“And by 13, he was number one in the U.S. and he’s been ever since.”

‘He’s done a lot more’

Although he is number one, R.J. has remained grounded – in large part due to mom and dad.

“It’s kinda hard [to get over confident] when your dad’s an Olympian …and you realize his jersey’s on the wall right there, he’s done a lot more,” said R.J.

It is clear that dad has an influence on R.J.’s path to becoming a superstar, and their bond is undeniable.

CBC’s Dwight Drummond, left, sat down with R.J. Barrett and his father Rowan. (CBC News)

“He’s at every game. If you’re watching me, I look over at him a lot. He makes a certain face and I know what it is. We have that connection off the court too. He’s a loving father, always there for my brother and me.”

Naturally it’s a bond that sometimes comes with pressure, and constant references of being Rowan Barrett’s son – but instead of cracking under the notoriety, R.J. thrives off of it.

“I think [R.J.] led the league in scoring because that’s what it is as a journeyman basketball player and he wanted to be better than his father and he knew it was going to take work,” said Upshaw.

The NBA is a clear goal for the young Barrett, but his next goal is to surpass his senior.

“[I want to] surpass him and be my own person too,” said the teen. “[One day people are] gonna be like ‘oh that’s R.J.’s dad.'”

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