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NBA Draft 2019

NBA Draft 2019: 'Canada basketball is on the rise' – a historic draft class is only the beginning

shai-gilgeous-alexander-rj-barrett-062219-ftr-nba-getty
Gilgeous-Alexander (2018) and Barrett (2019) are Canada's two most recent lottery picks (NBA Getty Images)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - "With the third pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select RJ Barrett, from Toronto and Duke University."

RJ Barrett smiled, bowed his head, and pumped his fists before standing to embrace his beaming father, Rowan, Sr. The 19-year-old Barrett was the first of four Canadians taken in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center, and six taken overall, both breaking previous records for Canadian players set in 2014 and setting a new overall international record.

Once the captain and currently the general manager of the Canadian National Basketball Team, the elder Barrett watched as his son and namesake strode towards the stage to follow in his footsteps by leading the way for another generation of Canadian basketball.

"I'm excited for him," said Barrett's father. "Your children make goals and they go out and achieve them. You have to be proud."

Barrett's selection was just the beginning of a record-setting night for Canadian basketball, as the country continued its ascent into the top-tier of basketball talent development. Barrett was later joined in the first round by Nickeil Alexander-Walker (No. 17 to the Brooklyn Nets), Brandon Clarke (No. 21 to the Oklahoma City Thunder), and Mfiondu Kabengele (No. 27 to the Nets).

The new standard breaks the previous mark of three first-round selections set in 2014, when Andrew Wiggins, Nik Stauskas, and Tyler Ennis were all taken in the opening round.

"It's been growing steadily," said Kabengele on Canadian basketball. "With pioneers such as Steve Nash, Wiggins, Tyler Ennis, I felt like other Candian kids like myself were inspired. We took training much more seriously. The game has globalized more where with Canadians and Americans, there's more cohesion, especially in AAU basketball...So I feel like in this next group of kids who have watched me the same way I watched others, it's just going to grow from there."

Nearly two hours later, the record for most Canadian players selected in a single draft also fell when the Sacramento Kings took Michigan's Ignas Brazdeikis at No. 47. Marial Shayok was taken at No. 54 by the Philadelphia 76ers to round out the night with six total Canadian selections, surpassing 2014's previous high of four and setting the new standard for any country not named the United States.

And Barrett - son of Team Canada's former captain, godson of Canadian great Steve Nash, face of Canadian basketball - got it started by fulfilling a prophecy 18 years in the making after his grandfather had told him that he would be a Knick when a young RJ would watch the team on television.

"It's amazing to be Canadian," said Barrett. "We take a lot of pride. That's why I've got my Canadian flags on the inside of my jacket...Canadian basketball is really on the rise,"

With the six players taken in Thursday night's draft, Canada also sets an overall record for most draftees from a non-U.S. country in one draft, surpassing the previous high of five by France in 2016. It also extends Canada's streak to 10 consecutive seasons with a player drafted, including 23 total since 2011. Eight picks since 2013 have been in the first round, with two of them - Wiggins and Anthony Bennett in 2013 - being taken first overall. Comparatively, only nine Canadians were drafted from 1983 to 2009.

MORE: History of Canadians in the NBA Draft

"I just feel like there's lots of talent coming out of [Canada] now," said Brandon Clarke. "...It's gotten much bigger, too, in Canada, and also with the Raptors winning, that's going to make it even bigger. It's just been really fun to watch the evolution of basketball in the country."

For now, the members of the Canadian draft class of 2019 head their own separate ways. Kabengele will join fellow countryman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the Clippers, who himself will likely be a vocal presence as Alexander-Walker, his cousin, transitions to life with a young Pelicans squad. Clarke will pair with Dillon Brooks in Memphis, while Barrett figures to serve as a fundamental building block towards the Knicks' future. But with the 2019 FIBA World Cup just over two months away, some of these players could find themselves reconvening in China quite soon.

"Canada basketball is on the rise," said Barrett. "We're going to have to cut some NBA players from the [National] Team this summer, but we'll see."

For a Canadian nation that is still celebrating the first-ever NBA title won by a team outside the U.S., that's not a bad problem to have.

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