CHICAGO - For the sixth year, the NBA's Rising Stars Challenge has adopted the Team USA vs. Team World format, pitting America's best first and second-year players against those from international countries.
One quick look at the rosters shows that after the United States, Canada has the strongest representation in the game with four players on Team World.
New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett, Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke and cousins Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the New Orleans Pelicans and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder will each represent Canada when they take the floor on Friday night.
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At Rising Stars Media Day, each player spoke about the opportunity as well as what it means for them and the country as a whole.
Brandon Clarke, who at 23-years-old is the elder statesmen of the crew despite being a rookie, began by saying "I would say (it's) very, very special. It's also really big for our country. So I'm just really grateful to play with them and represent our country because basketball is getting bigger and bigger there."
"Really grateful to play with them and represent our country!- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) February 14, 2020
- Brandon Clarke 🇨🇦 shares what it means to be playing alongside fellow Canadians in the Rising Stars Game. #NBAAllStar | @memgrizz pic.twitter.com/ko5ZWEGx99
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Gilgeous-Alexander, the lone second-year player of the crew also spoke on what this meant for basketball in Canada, citing the various areas from which each player hails: "It's super cool. Just cool to see how far Canada Basketball has come. And we're from all over. Myself being from Hamilton, Nickeil from Scarborough, RJ from Mississauga and Brandon from B.C., it's been super cool."
'Cool' is also a word used by his cousin, Alexander-Walker, who talked about the personal side of things, speaking of the developing bond between the future of Canada Basketball: "It'll be fun to gain a good bond. Brandon is really cool. RJ is really cool. Every time we see each other we joke around, we chill and I think that'll help us."
Finally, Barrett, the No. 3 overall pick from the 2019 draft, spoke on his preexisting friendship with the guys he's set to suit up with on Friday night: "I got Shai and Nickeil with me - we've been boys for a while. We got Brandon Clarke here, too, so it's great. Especially to have friendly faces here,"
.@RjBarrett6 🇨🇦 is pumped to play alongside fellow Canadians @shaiglalex, @NickeilAW & @brandonclarke23! #NBAAllStar | @nyknicks pic.twitter.com/7zvYakkLSi- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) February 14, 2020
That four Canadians are considered Rising Stars in this league is just another accomplishment after a historic draft that saw a record six Canadian players selected. This season, 21 Canadians are on NBA rosters, with five on two-way contracts.
This comes just two years after Denver Nuggets budding superstar Jamal Murray was named MVP of this same game.
The future of basketball in Canada is bright, to say the least, and it's only a matter of time before we'll see some of these Rising Stars suit up to play in the All-Star Game on Sunday.
Alexander-Walker, Barrett, Clarke and Gilgeous-Alexander will look to lead Team World to a win over Team USA at 9 p.m. ET on Sportsnet.
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