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Duke's newest freshmen hit campus while RJ Barrett stars for Canada

R.J. Barrett highlights & conversation at the BBC

Highlights of Montverde Academy (Fla.) 6-6 senior wing R.J. Barrett from the Beach Ball Classic at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, and a conversation with the Duke commitment.
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Highlights of Montverde Academy (Fla.) 6-6 senior wing R.J. Barrett from the Beach Ball Classic at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, and a conversation with the Duke commitment.

June’s final week means it’s time for the next group of Blue Devils to begin gathering on campus, working toward the lofty goals which accompany any Duke basketball team.

R.J. Barrett is among the few Duke players who won’t be in town this week though.

The 6-7 guard, the No. 1-ranked incoming freshman and the crown jewel of the nation’s top recruiting class, will remain in his native Canada getting experience in international competition.

Barrett is playing for Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team. The team is participating in FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas 2019 qualifying, with two games scheduled over the next week.

In an exhibition game on Sunday night against China in British Columbia, Barrett produced 21 points, three rebounds and five assists in Canada’s 108-72 win. Three days earlier against China, Barrett had 16 points, four rebounds, two steals and two assists in just 20 minutes of play as Canada won 97-62.

Canada plays qualifying games against the Dominican Republic on Friday in Toronto and against the U.S. Virgin Islands on July 2 in Ottawa. They can be viewed online at http://www.livebasketball.tv.

Last summer, Barrett starred on the international stage when he led Canada to the FIBA 2017 World Cup gold medal in Egypt. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists, scoring 38 points in a semifinal win over the U.S. team.

Barrett is the lone newcomer who won’t be on campus when classes for Duke’s second summer session begin on July 2. Antonio Vrankovic, a 7-foot senior reserve center, is with Croatia’s national team in the FIBA World Cup European qualifiers. Walk-on Brennan Besser is in the midst of his journey from Seattle to New York via bicycle and running to raise money for charities that help the intellectual and developmental disability community.

Otherwise, the Blue Devils will be at Duke to begin preparing for next season — both on and off the court.

“I’m really anxious to coach these guys and see the impact of the freshmen on the upperclassmen and the impact of the upperclassmen on the freshmen,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We need to develop that better.”

Duke went 29-8 last season, reaching the NCAA Tournament’s elite eight. Four of the five starters from that team — Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter, Grayson Allen and Gary Trent — were selected in last Thursday’s NBA draft. The fifth starter, Trevon Duval, signed a free-agent contract to play for Houston’s NBA summer league team.

Barrett is a major part of replacing them. He’s joined by fellow five-star players Cameron Reddish, Zion Williamson and Tre Jones. Duke also added four-star forward Joey Baker to the class in May.

Spartanburg Day senior Zion Williamson picks the Duke Blue Devils giving Coach K the top three high school recruits in 2018.

Jones is a point guard with shooting skills. Barrett and the 6-7 Reddish are part of a new wave of positionless players who are comfortable anywhere on the court. The powerful 6-6 Williamson is projected to help inside but he also has perimeter skills.

Jones will run the offense.

“Wherever it goes after he has it, it’s almost always good,” Krzyzewski said of his point guard. “But he doesn’t pound the ball. So that gives an opportunity for R.J., Zion, Cameron. Those three kids, they are good basketball players. They can play all over the court. They can compliment.”

Duke returns two experienced interior players who were reserves last season in 6-11 junior Marques Bolden and 6-10 junior Javin DeLaurier. Both figure to see their roles increase.

Krzyzewski will use their time together on campus over the next few weeks to start evaluating who fits where. Duke is taking a foreign tour to Canada for three exhibition games in August and will get 10 practices leading up to those games to prepare.

Barrett, Vrankovic and Besser are expected to be back on campus by then so the entire team can benefit.

“We need to get to know each other before giving out — you’re a starter, you’re a captain, you’re a three man,” Krzyzewski said. “Let’s find out who we are before we do that. I’m excited about the summer. I’m healthy. I’m as healthy as I’ve been for a long time. I’m excited.”

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