By RYAN WOLSTAT
CHICAGO (February 15) — It was called the World Team, but with four Canucks on the roster, half of the NBA Rising Stars crop could have been known as Team Canada and Friends.
The team, which was helmed by Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, featured Ontario natives RJ Barrett, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Vancouver native Brandon Clarke, was a bit of a preview — Canadian hoops fans certainly hope — of what might be seen this summer in Victoria, B.C., at the last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament and beyond that, should the team make it, in Tokyo.
Team USA won 151-131, but Barrett had a game-high 27 points, Clarke added 22 (third amongst all players), Gilgeous-Alexander 16 and Alexander-Walker six. At one point, Griffin put all four on the court at the same time with Dallas superstar Luka Doncic (of Slovenia).
“It’s just something really cool to have four Canadians on the floor at the same time,” Griffin said when I asked him about it afterward.
“Really big for our country,” Clarke had said earlier Friday of having so much Can-Con on hand.
“It’s super cool just to see how far Canada Basketball has come,” added Gilgeous-Alexander, who is a leading candidate to be named the NBA’s most improved player in his second season.
“And there’s guys from all over. Myself being from Hamilton. Nickeil being from Scarborough, RJ from Mississauga and Brandon from B.C.”
Walker-Alexander, Gilgeous-Alexander’s cousin, said this group already has a bit of a bond.
“It will be fun to gain a good rapport. Brandon’s pretty cool. RJ’s cool. Every time we see each other it’s jokes. It’s chill. So I think having that rapport helps,” he said.
Gilgeous-Alexander said it felt a bit like a dream to be there with his family member after they grew up imagining the possibilities.
“It goes by so fast. It feels like last year I was in high school, playing with my cousin. You cherish those moments, but in this league, in this situation I’m in, you’ve got to move forward and worry about the future,” he said.
The Oklahoma City Thunder star added he’s already looking ahead to the summer.
“Extremely excited. This will be my first chance to play on an Olympic level and we’ve got a lot of guys that are talented and, as far as I know, want to compete and win. And with those two things, anything is possible,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
Charlotte’s Miles Bridges was named game MVP for scoring 20 points, along with five rebounds, five assists and three steals. A highlight was New Orleans rookie Zion Williamson denting the backboard on a dunk attempt.