Knicks Target R.J. Barrett Is 'Arguably The Best Player' In The NBA Draft: High School Coach

 forbes.com  05/17/2019 23:47:00 

Duke's R.J. Barrett will be "arguably the best player in the NBA Draft" and "just as good" as Zion Williamson, says his high school coach Kevin Boyle. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond, File)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

If the Knicks end up getting R.J. Barrett with the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, they will be getting "arguably the best player" in the Draft.

That's according to his former high school coach, legendary Montverde (FL) Academy coach Kevin Boyle.

When the NBA Draft arrives on June 20, Barrett figures to be Boyle's sixth top-3 NBA Draft pick since 2011, a list that includes former No. 1s Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, No. 2s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and D'Angelo Russell and No. 3 Joel Embiid, whom Boyle sent to the Montverde JV team because he wasn't yet ready for the varsity.

"If R.J. Barrett is available and ends up going to the Knicks, I think you could make a good case that you got arguably the best player," Boyle said by phone of Barrett, who was the projected No. 1 pick in the Draft entering the 2018-19 season. "Without question, you could make the argument for Zion [Williamson] and almost everyone does. And the issue is everybody makes it like it's automatic. But I think R.J. has a very good argument that he was as good in college and that he'll be as good in the pros."

Boyle, who won five New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles at St. Patrick High School and four Dick's/GEICO High School National titles at Montverde, predicted a "dogfight" for NBA Rookie of the Year honors between Barrett and Williamson.

"It's going to be a dogfight for who's the Rookie of the Year, not an automatic just because [Zion] is the highlight film in terms of dunks," Boyle said.

Since 2011, @coachkevinboyle has more top-3 NBA Draft picks than any coach besides Coach K. Let that sink in.

Assuming @RjBarrett6 goes top-3 it will look like this:@DukeMBB - 8@coachkevinboyle - 6@KentuckyMBB - 3@KUHoops - 2@APlayersProgram - 2@UNC_Basketball - 0 pic.twitter.com/WR6VN3gRyz

 Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) January 20, 2019

The left-handed Canadian has been compared to James Harden because of his scoring ability. Entering his senior season at Montverde (FL) Academy, he led Team Canada to a gold medal in the FIBA U19 World Championship in Egypt, beating a John Calipari-led USA team in the semifinals along the way. Barrett went for 38 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists in that game and then led Canada to its first gold medal on the international stage with a win over Italy in the final.

At Montverde, Barrett guided the team to a perfect 35-0 record as a senior, winning every major national Player of the Year and the GEICO High School Nationals along the way.

Boyle says people conveniently forget -- or don't want to remember -- that Barrett won those awards, not Zion.

"People forget that R.J. Barrett was the USA Today Player of the Year," Boyle said. "It's almost like you're not allowed to mention it because that would be not pleasing to Zion."

Boyle pointed out that Barrett led the ACC in scoring at 23.4 points per game and set the ACC freshman scoring record.

"He created some incredible stats," Boyle said. "He's the all-time leading freshman scorer in the history of the ACC. I mean, who's done that hasn't been a star player in the NBA? So I think you're getting a guy that's going to be a multiple-time All-Star, a guy that's incredibly mature on the court and off the court."

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a fellow Canadian two years older than Barrett, called him an "elite scorer" who will "bring happiness to Knicks fans."

Barrett has also drawn praise from everyone from Jalen Rose to Isiah Thomas to Coach K to Jay Bilas.

R.J. Barrett could easily be the best player in the draft, Rose said Wednesday on ESPNs Get Up! If Im the Knicks, yes I hold on to the pick.

Duke forward RJ Barrett (5) reacts after scoring against Michigan State during the first half of an NCAA men's East Regional final college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

As for his character, Boyle said most players playing alongside Zion "would've been upset, bitched and jealous" that Williamson got "most of the attention."

Instead, Barrett worked on his game, never got hurt and became best friends with Zion.

"He was happy for his teammate and just kept working and playing," Boyle said. "It never affected him one way or the other, and I think that's an incredibly mature player. And I think that's an incredible value to any NBA team, that no matter where you fall, or however much attention you get or don't get, that you're going to come to work, be productive, be a good teammate and play your butt off every day. I think that tells a lot about the type of career that he's going to have, whether he ends up being a star level player or a good player. He's going to be the same guy and compete every day."

Barrett came to Montverde because of a connection to the school. Canadian Christopher Egi had played for Boyle before going on to Harvard. So in September 2015, Rowan Barrett, R.J.'s father, who starred at St. John's before an overseas pro career, took a visit with R.J. to check it out.

The school "was as good as any that I'd seen," Rowan, now the executive vice president of Canada Basketball, told me for this Bleacher Report story. "Academically, everything kind of checked off...And then on the court, [they were] clearly defensive-minded, disciplined, grinding, getting better. Constantly, daily. And when I looked at all the athletes that [Boyle] had in the gym, I thought, 'He's going to get better. My son is going to get better here.'

"And R.J. was adamant. He was like: 'I don't want to see any more schools. This is it.'"

Montverde Academy's R.J. Barrett #5 is seen against Mater Dei during a high school basketball game at the Hoophall Classic, Monday, January 15, 2018, in Springfield, MA. Montverde won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Despite all Barrett's success at Montverde, Boyle continued to get after him in practice to motivate him. One time during Barrett's senior season, Boyle stopped a practice five minutes in and began yelling and screaming at the team because he felt it wasn't prepared, even though Barrett had arrived 20 minutes early. The whole tirade was aimed at R.J.

"He's definitely helping me to grow as a leader," Barrett said. "That's been the main focus for me this year. Just try to lead the team as best as I can."

Barrett saw a similarity in how Boyle, the fiery coach, helped both he and Embiid prepare for their futures by working them so hard.

"Yeah, kind of," he said. "Humble beginnings, came from Canada, came here and just realized that I had to work hard."

That hard work now has him in position to be maybe the best Canadian player ever, and maybe the best player Boyle has ever coached.

Boyle has made some bold, but accurate, predictions in the past. He predicted that Irving would be the best guard ever to come out of New Jersey when Irving came out of St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J.. He later predicted that Russell would be a multi-year All-Star.

"And I feel confident based on my experience again," Boyle said, "that R.J.'s going to be a multi-year All-Star player."

« Go back