New York Knicks make R.J. Barrett first Canadian pick in NBA draft

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The New York Knicks have taken R.J. Barrett third overall in the NBA draft, kicking off what could be a record-setting night for Canadian basketball.

A native of Mississauga, Ont., and a star with Duke, the six-foot-seven Barrett was the highest-ranked player from his country on a large list of Canadians available to be drafted.

Canada entered the 60-pick event with a realistic shot of setting or matching a record for most players picked from any country outside the United States in a single draft. The record was set by France with five in 2016.

Vancouver-born and Arizona-raised Brandon Clarke of Gonzaga, Toronto’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker of Virginia Tech and Burlington, Ont., native Mfiondu Kabengele of Florida State also were invited to the green room as top prospects for Thursday’s draft.

Several other Canadians were thought to be candidates to go later in the draft.

The evening was a continuation of a memorable week for Canadian basketball. A massive crowd cheered on the NBA champion Raptors during a parade and rally in downtown Toronto on Monday, four days after the team became the first squad from outside the U.S., to capture the crown.

Canada’s record for most players taken in the draft was set in 2014 when four were selected, including three in the first round.

Barrett, the son of Canadian men’s basketball team general manager and former national team standout player Rowan Barrett, was the highest Canadian picked since Andrew Wiggins went first overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2014.

Anthony Bennett of Brampton, Ont., also went first overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013.

On Thursday, the New Orleans Pelicans started the draft by taking Duke’s Zion Williamson. The Memphis Grizzlies followed by scooping up Murray State guard Ja Morant.

The NBA champion Toronto Raptors entered the night without a pick in the first round. They owned the 59th overall pick.