Jamaican Canadian features in record NBA draft

By Lincoln DePradine

From Left: Marial Makur Shayok, Mfiondu Kabengele, JR Barrett, Brandon Clarke,
Ignas Brazdeikis, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Rowan Barrett, the Scarborough-born Canadian of Jamaican heritage, had more than one good reason to celebrate last week when teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) – including newly crowned champions Toronto Raptors – participated in drafting new players to the league.

Barrett, a 46-year-old former Canadian national basketballer who is now the general manager of the Canadian senior men’s national team, witnessed a record six Canadians taken in the NBA draft at the Barclay’s Center in New York. It’s the most players picked in a single draft from any country, outside the United States. The previous record of five was set by France in 2016.

RJ and his dad Rowan Barratt

The first among the six Canadian players – drafted third overall by the New York Knick – was Barret’s son, 19-year-old R.J. Barrett.

The elder Barrett called it “a momentous day’’ for Canada and expressed pride in his son. “Your children make goals, and they go out and achieve them, you have to be proud,’’ he said. “Obviously, as a father, you teach your children to make goals and then systematically work and try to go after them and, watching him achieve one of his biggest goals, was an amazing thing.’’

Barrett, his father disclosed, will be playing for an NBA team that was the favourite of his Jamaica-born grandfather.

“When he (the grandfather) came to the States it was all about Patrick Ewing (the former Knicks star who was born in Jamaica). It wasn’t about Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. He didn’t understand any of them,’’ Barrett told sports journalist Michael Grange. “He knew Ewing, so the Knicks were his team and he just talked about how [R.J.] could play for the Knicks one day.’’

Four of the other five Canadians drafted – Marial Makur Shayok, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Brandon Clarke and Mfiondu Kabengele – are African-Canadians. The fifth, Ignas Brazdeikis, was born in Lithuania.

“I’d like to congratulate all our Canadian players on achieving their dreams after being selected during the NBA draft,” said Basketball Canada president and CEO Glen Grunwald. “As a country, Canada continues to produce some of the top basketball talent in the world as a Canadian has now been selected in each of the last ten NBA drafts.”

Brazdeikis was selected with the 47th overall pick by the Sacramento Kings but later traded to New York.

The other City of New York NBA franchise, the Brooklyn Nets, drafted Alexander-Walker and then traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Clarke, a member of the Grizzlies, was drafted 21st overall. He was born in Vancouver to a Canadian mother and a Jamaican father Steve Clarke. The family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, when their son was three.

Kabengele, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, is the son of Congolese parents and nephew of former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo.

Shayok, born in Ottawa to Sudanese parents, was picked by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Barrett, a six-foot-seven Mississauga resident, decided to turn pro after one year of college at Duke University.

“I just can’t tell you how excited we are to be able to land R.J. Barrett and add him to the New York Knicks,’’ said team general manager Scott Perry.

“We love a lot of things about this young man, starting with his tremendous competitive level; his desire to want to be great as a basketball player. He’s highly accomplished.’’

The Toronto Raptors, reigning NBA champions, used their 59th overall pick to draft Dewan Hernandez, a 22-year-old from the University of Miami.

#RJ and his dad Rowan Barratt#Caribbean Canada Basketball#NBA Black players #Black Canadians in Basketball