Canada makes history at 2019 NBA Draft as record 6 players selected
Canada also snagged another designation thanks to the red-hot showing: the most draftees from a non-U.S. country in one draft.
On top of that, four of the selections were first-round picks.
Mississauga teen R.J. Barrett was chosen third overall by the New York Knicks. The 19-year-old was brought to tears during the live broadcast on ESPN, as his father expressed how proud he was of his accomplishments.
WATCH: The New Orleans Pelicans selected Toronto’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker with the 17th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft Thursday.
Rowan Barrett, who is the general manager of Canada’s senior men’s national team, lauded the success of current players.
“This exemplifies our players reaching for the highest levels in sport,” he said in a release issued by Canada Basketball. “This growth has not happened overnight and is the result of many years of planning, programming and winning.”
His son has since become the the highest drafted Canadian player since Andrew Wiggins, who was selected first overall in 2014.
Richard Stewart has been immersed in the sport for more than 30 years. He works with elite athletes, including Ignas Brazdeikis, who was chosen by the Sacramento Kings.
“Ignas Brazdeikis’ dad brought him to me when he was 10 years old. A skinny kid, unsure of himself. Couldn’t do a left-hand layup,” he recollected. “I said to his dad, ‘I think I can help him though.’ He was focused. I could see the focus in his eyes.”
Stewart himself excelled at the sport. He beamed with pride over the success of his former players.
“It’s gratifying because I know how we struggled and fought so they could have an opportunity,” he said.
“We were playing basketball in the trenches and we dreamed that Canadian kids would be on that stage. We knew we were good enough all along. We know it. And now seeing them doing it, I’m so proud of him. I’m so proud of every single kid who makes it.”
Gus Gymnopoulos would be the first person to tell you he was aptly named. He is the head coach of the Vaughan Secondary School PREP basketball team. He coached first round pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who was chosen by the Brooklyn Nets.
“When Nickeil came, he was in ninth grade. He was this long kid, with long hands and big feet and he could pass with both hands. He wasn’t that tall, but you could see that he was going to blossom,” said Gymnopoulos.
The Vaughan Secondary School teacher also coached Andrew Wiggins. He attended the 2014 NBA Draft with Wiggins and his family, describing it as one of the most special experiences of his coaching career.
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“It’s remarkable,” he said of the draft. “I think it should have been more than six, to be honest with you. When you look at the people that were actually left off the board, they’re every bit as good as the guys that have been drafted.”
Gymnopoulos described the growing popularity of Canadian players as a gradual culmination. He believes that momentum will continue, adding the accessibility and affordability of the game has made it a popular option for athletes from all walks of life.
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