Rowan Barrett Jr. runs up and down the court and dunks so many times I’ve lost count, but today the stands aren’t full and the court is one-quarter regulation size.
RJ, as he’s known, is sharpening his skills in a neighbour’s backyard in Mississauga, a place he considers his home court. The fans cheering for him today are his father Rowan Barrett Sr., his mother Kesha, his younger brother Nathan, and a few neighbours.
RJ has been playing basketball here since he was about six years old. His father would roll down the net so he could practice shooting the ball and move his way around the court with ease. Today, RJ rolls the net much higher, and smiling confidently, he challenges his father to a game of one-on-one.
The 15 year old from St. Marcellinus Secondary School is six-foot-six, despite only being in grade 10, and he’s already on the radar of top U.S. basketball programs.
He’s considered a 2019 NBA prospect and is often compared to first-overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Like the Canadian-born Wiggins, in RJ’s family athleticism is a family trait. His father, Rowan Barrett, is a former Canadian Olympian and is now the executive vice president and assistant general manager at Canada Basketball. His mother, Kesha, was an NCAA sprinter and long jumper. His aunt, Dahlia Duhaney, was a world champion sprinter who represented her native country of Jamaica, and his godfather is retired, two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash.
And while the teenager may have height, he has plenty to look up to and he’s received quite a bit of advice from his godfather along the way.
“He always said it’s tough in the NBA, so you always have to be prepared,” Barrett says. “You have to stretch and you have to come with your mind ready to play every day.”
It’s advice he’s been taking seriously since he could throw a ball.
RJ is a small forward with the 2015 Cadet Men’s National team and Brampton Warrior AAU team. This year he led the cadet team in scoring and earned the nickname “Don’t Panic” by his teammates for his ability to turn the game around in the final minutes.
His skills are obvious, and when comparing his game to others in the NBA, he says right now he’s a mix between Lebron James and Kevin Durant.
“I can see a mixture between LeBron and Kevin Durant, that’s what I’m hoping to be, that’s what I can see in my game so far,” he says. “Why? I can do everything on the court, so I have no limitations and just doing that at a high level will be my challenge.”
RJ has it all mapped out. His father says a chart with future goals is hanging on a wall in his room. Some have already been accomplished, while others are waiting to be checked off.
“Right now I have to finish high school and go to university and then end goal (is) to be in the NBA,” Barrett says.
Back in Mississauga, on this small court, the one-on-one game between father and son is heating up. Dad is getting a bit tired – he wipes the sweat dripping from his forehead. A neighbourhood kid passes him a bottle of Gatorade. He takes a big gulp. Rowan Sr. will not back down. He knows these games are more important now than ever.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to beat him a little more before the end of the year is out, but I think that time is coming he’ll be taking me on pretty soon,” the elder Barrett says with a smile.