Special to On Point Basketball by Charles Vanegas
When R.J. Barrett steps on the court during next week’s U16 FIBA Americas tournament in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, will he feel pressure?
“No. None at all,” says Barrett, the Missisauga native ranked as the top 15-year-old player in North America. “There are other good players around me. Can’t get too high, can’t get too low. Just gotta stay focused”
The approach is appropriate, given the challenges facing head coach Dave DeAveiro’s young squad. Having just a week to practice as a team before making the 16-hour trip south, most players are still getting used to the schemes and having to play more team-oriented basketball — as they are no longer the primary ball handler.
“We don’t have a lot of time so we’re throwing a lot of things at them. So we’re asking them to focus and pay attention to every detail to make us better,” says DeAveiro. “We’re holding them accountable for the things they’re doing and not doing, and they’re responding to that. They realize that we’re trying to make them better. We want them to play, I don’t know if I’d call it ‘the right way’, but we’re playing on a different level, a different style of basketball, that maybe they’re not used to.”
Luckily for Canada, most of the 12-man roster has played with or against one another, coming up through the Junior Academy program together. Eleven of them play club ball in the Greater Toronto Area.
“We’ve all seen each other through the years, except for the out of town guys,” says point guard Marcus Carr, from Woodbridge, Ont. “But we’re all pretty familiar, so we have that camaraderie. We’re pretty close as a team.”
DeAveiro says eliminating distractions will be key. For some players, this will be their first real international experience, which means eating different food, not sleeping in their beds and playing in front of the biggest crowds they ever have.
Barrett says he isn’t fazed by the changes, having gotten the global experience while travelling with his father, Rowan Barrett, former team captain and current assistant GM for the Canadian senior national team. RJ says he speaks fluent French and even a bit of Spanish.
But the main challenge for Canada won’t be what language they’re speaking, but rather if they are speaking.
“We’re talking about fifteen to sixteen-year-old kids who don’t talk a lot,” says DeAveiro. “The hardest part is getting them to speak in competition, in the heat of the battle. It’s not their tendency, it’s not who they are.”
Despite this, DeAveiro is happy with the team’s growth after just a few days as a unit, saying the game flow and understanding of concepts are coming along. He feels confident in Canada’s chances at the podium, but says the greatest challenge may come in the round robin, where they face the hosts in their third game (Fri. June 12).
“The ultimate test is beating Argentina in Argentina,” he says. “I couldn’t ask for a better challenge.”
Canada is also slated to play Venezuela (Wed. June 10) and Mexico (Thu. June 11).
Written by Charles Vanegas
Photos by Charles Vanegas