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In Duke debut, Barrett leads Blue Devils to emphatic preseason win over Ryerson

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Duke Blue Devils’ R.J. Barrett is guarded by Ryerson Rams’ Myles Charvis during their exhibition game in Mississauga, Ont., on Aug. 15, 2018.

MARK BLINCH/The Canadian Press

Late in the first quarter of his college coming-out party, Canadian basketball phenom R.J. Barrett veered around a Ryerson defender to throw down an emphatic dunk. He and teammate Zion Williamson celebrated with a chest bump that was almost as big.

Making his Duke debut in his virtual backyard, the electrifying 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., made his first game in a Blue Devils jersey a memorable one, scoring a game-high 34 points in an 86-67 preseason victory over Canadian university’s Ryerson Rams.

“It was great to get to go out there with my brothers in my hometown. It was special for me,” Barrett said. “A lot of excitement, a little nervous with it being the first time wearing a Duke jersey.

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“But for me, playing in front of the fans is great. I got to see mom and dad in the crowd and everybody in Canada. It was cool.”

Williamson added 29 points and 13 rebounds, and Duke didn’t have another player in double figures as the two young stars provided a highlight-package preview of what should be a thrilling NCAA season to come.

“Those two kids . . . they’re all about winning – they get it,” said Duke’s Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Barrett certainly showed zero signs of first-game jitters, and on one particularly memorable play late in the third quarter, he found Williamson with a halfcourt lob for an alley-oop that brought the crowd to its feet.

“I don’t think he’s a kid that ever gets nervous and he’s never afraid but he’s excited. He’s proud,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s represented Canada internationally and this is his home. He’s proud to be at Duke. He’s proud, proud, proud about so many things, and you want to play great.

“I thought he played really well but he’ll play even better as this moves along.”

NCAA rules permit teams to take an international trip once every four years, and the Blue Devils opted to head north for the first time in the program’s storied history. They’ll play the University of Toronto on Friday, then head to Montreal to face McGill on Sunday.

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Fans were eager to catch a first glimpse of not only Barrett – the presumptive No. 1 pick in next spring’s NBA draft –but Duke’s top-ranked freshman class that includes Williamson and Cam Reddish, who are ranked Nos. 2 and 3 behind their Canadian teammate. Both games at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre sold out quickly. Wednesday’s affair was being streamed on ESPN, and drew a media contingent several-dozen strong.

Wednesday’s pro-Duke crowd included Portland sharpshooter and fellow Mississauga native Nik Stauskas and 10-time NBA all-star David Robinson.

Barrett is already being touted as perhaps the greatest player to come out of Canada. The six-foot-seven swingman won both the Gatorade Player of the Year and Naismith Player of the Year last season to help Florida’s Montverde Academy to an undefeated season and coveted U.S. high school title. He also led Canada’s U19 team, coached by Ryerson’s Roy Rana, to its historic gold medal at the 2017 U19 world championships.

“I told R.J. at the end of the game in the handshake line, it’s nothing but love. I want to see him do well and I think he’s going to have a tremendous ‘one-year’ career at Duke,” Rana said.

JV Mukama led Ryerson with 20 points and 12 rebounds. The Rams, back-to-back Canadian university silver medallists, held their own for much of the first half against one of the NCAA’s most prominent teams.

“You’re not going to see an athlete like R.J. and Zion Williamson every day so I think that bodes well for our season as we move forward,” Rana said. “We were able to compete for 40 minutes and had some stretches where I thought we looked really good against one of the top teams in the NCAA and an iconic program.

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“As far as the experience is concerned, I mean, wow,” he added. “Not only the fact that it’s Duke, but an incredible crowd, great energy, just a real celebration of basketball in our country, really.”

The Rams led 17-15 to end the first quarter, and Tanor Ngom, a Senegalese sophomore, ignited the crowd with a huge dunk over Duke’s Alex O’Connell early in the game. O’Connell left the game and was taken to hospital with a suspected orbital bone injury.

The Blue Devils started rolling in a second quarter highlighted by Williamson, who showed size-defying athleticism when he scored on a huge putback dunk. One sarcastic fan hollered “Show us something, Zion!” At six foot seven and 285 pounds, Williams is an enigma. He could easily be mistaken for a college football rookie, yet has the leaping ability of a high jumper, breaking the Duke record with his eye-popping 45-inch vertical leap in team testing.

The Blue Devils took a 40-28 advantage into the halftime break, and led 65-48 with one quarter left to play.

Duke was technically the home team, despite the proximity of Ryerson’s downtown Toronto campus, and the capacity crowd – an arena sellout is listed at about 5,400 – was a sea of Duke blue. Tables on the arena concourse were selling special edition Duke Canada Tour T-shirts. Video footage of Duke’s boat tour of Toronto Harbour from earlier in the week was shown during a timeout.

And an hour before opening tipoff, a long lineup of Blue Devils fans stretched down the sidewalk of what was formerly the Hershey Centre, eager to get the first glimpse of this season’s squad and its homegrown Canadian star.

Duke is fourth in NCAA all-time wins, while Krzyzewski is the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach with five NCAA titles. He also led the U.S. men’s national team to six gold medals.

Canadian basketball phenom R.J. Barrett says he got to show his Duke teammates “where I’m from” when the team took a Lake Ontario boat cruise. The Blue Devils face Ryerson on Wednesday in the first of three pre-season games in Canada. The Canadian Press

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Spain's La Liga will start playing regular season matches in US

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The ambitious group that stages high-profile soccer friendlies every summer in the United States is now planning to arrange meaningful matches here.

Relevent, the sports and entertainment company that operates the annual International Champions Cup, has struck a 15-year promotional deal with Spain’s La Liga that includes plans to play at least one league match at a U.S. venue every season.

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during a La Liga match between Barcelona and SD Eibar at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain. To properly market a U.S. match, Relevent exec Charlie Stillitano said one of the participating teams would have to be Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla or Valencia.  (David Ramos / GETTY IMAGES)

Charlie Stillitano, Relevent’s executive chairperson, told the Insider that the sides have begun discussing a single game this season, sometime after Jan. 1, perhaps in Miami and almost certainly involving one of the league’s famous clubs.

“Our goal, our job, our responsibility is to try to build La Liga,” Stillitano said. “We told them, [Relevent] sees the power of regular season games.”

To properly market the match, he added, one of the participating teams would have to be Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla or Valencia (but preferably one of the first three). “And the league knows that,” Stillitano said.

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Miami is the front-runner but Stillitano has not ruled out other venue options. Relevent owner Stephen Ross also owns the Miami Dolphins and the NFL team’s venue, Hard Rock Stadium.

In this year’s ICC, the venue hosted Bayern Munich vs. Manchester City and Manchester United vs. Real Madrid. Last year, Hard Rock Stadium welcomed the ultimate club showdown: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.

In future seasons, multiple La Liga matches might end up in the United States.

“Joining with Relevent … is a major milestone in our international expansion strategy,” La Liga international development director Oscar Mayo said in a prepared statement.

Playing abroad would mean one team would have to sacrifice a home date, a touchy subject in traditional soccer circles, where the balanced schedule (home and away against every other team) is holy. La Liga teams plays 38 league matches apiece, plus Copa del Rey games and, for some clubs, UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

“It’s a 15-year deal but we want to start building the brand now, and the best way for the American people to realize that La Liga is probably the best football league in the world in terms of quality soccer is with a regular season match,” Stillitano said. “We want to get that out there.”

No matter where the games take place, it’s a positive development for U.S. soccer fans who have been paying high prices to attend what are, in essence, pre-season games for the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

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An official soccer match between European teams on foreign soil would follow in the footsteps of North American pro sports leagues scheduling regular season games abroad to expand commercial appeal and visibility.

Since 2005, the NFL has played 30 official games in England and Mexico. It will conduct four more this fall, including the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 28 at London’s soccer cathedral, Wembley Stadium.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres played a three-game series in Monterrey, Mexico, this season and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, Major League Baseball’s fiercest rivals, will meet in London next year. The NBA and NHL have also taken competitive games abroad.

European soccer teams have been visiting the United States regularly for years, with Relevant growing the ICC event into a large-scale operation. All the teams that participated in the ICC were well-known. The tournament was played in 23 venues, including 15 in the States.

They included Real Madrid vs. Juventus at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, and a Manchester United-Liverpool game that drew 101,254 to Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

The teams, however, treat these matches as glorified training sessions, making mass substitutions, testing young players and sometimes leaving marquee figures at home. This year, with the ICC falling a few weeks after the World Cup, several superstars, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, did not participate.

The long-term deal between La Liga and Relevent will result in the formation of a business called La Liga North America, which will promote Spanish soccer in the United States and represent the league’s business interests in U.S. and Canadian markets. It also will aim to establish youth academies, marketing agreements and annual friendlies.

“Meaningful matches are important because, for the past few years, the ICC has outpunched its weight with games that don’t mean anything, this year especially,” said Steve Gera, chief executive of Gains Group, a sports business and technology company. “The ability to play games here that mean something, and also have your best talent, takes it to an entirely different level.”

He added that “La Liga is trying to be one of the more aggressive leagues in the world. This is definitely a stake in the ground that they are here to play and are going to try to grow aggressively.”

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Canada's Barrett leads Duke to pre-season win over Ryerson in Duke debut

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Canada’s Barrett leads Duke to pre-season win over Ryerson in Duke debut

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Late in the first quarter of his college coming-out party, Canadian basketball phenom R.J. Barrett veered around a Ryerson defender to throw down an emphatic dunk. He and teammate Zion Williamson celebrated with a chest bump that was almost as big.

Making his Duke debut in his virtual backyard, the electrifying 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., made his first game in a Blue Devils jersey a memorable one, scoring a game-high 34 points in an 86-67 pre-season victory over Canadian university’s Ryerson Rams.

“It was great to get to go out there with my brothers in my hometown. It was special for me,” Barrett said. “A lot of excitement, a little nervous with it being the first time wearing a Duke jersey. 

“But for me, playing in front of the fans is great. I got to see mom and dad in the crowd and everybody in Canada. It was cool.” 

Williamson added 29 points and 13 rebounds, and Duke didn’t have another player in double figures as the two young stars provided a highlight-package preview of what should be a thrilling NCAA season to come.

“Those two kids . . . they’re all about winning — they get it,” said Duke’s Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.   

Barrett certainly showed zero signs of first-game jitters, and on one particularly memorable play late in the third quarter, he found Williamson with a halfcourt lob for an alley-oop that brought the crowd to its feet.

“I don’t think he’s a kid that ever gets nervous and he’s never afraid but he’s excited. He’s proud,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s represented Canada internationally and this is his home. He’s proud to be at Duke. He’s proud, proud, proud about so many things, and you want to play great.

“I thought he played really well but he’ll play even better as this moves along.”

NCAA rules permit teams to take an international trip once every four years, and the Blue Devils opted to head north for the first time in the program’s storied history. They’ll play the University of Toronto on Friday, then head to Montreal to face McGill on Sunday.

Fans were eager to catch a first glimpse of not only Barrett — the presumptive No. 1 pick in next spring’s NBA draft —but Duke’s top-ranked freshman class that includes Williamson and Cam Reddish, who are ranked Nos. 2 and 3 behind their Canadian teammate. Both games at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre sold out quickly. Wednesday’s affair was being streamed on ESPN, and drew a media contingent several-dozen strong.

Wednesday’s pro-Duke crowd included Portland sharpshooter and fellow Mississauga native Nik Stauskas and 10-time NBA all-star David Robinson.

Barrett is already being touted as perhaps the greatest player to come out of Canada. The six-foot-seven swingman won both the Gatorade Player of the Year and Naismith Player of the Year last season to help Florida’s Montverde Academy to an undefeated season and coveted U.S. high school title. He also led Canada’s U19 team, coached by Ryerson’s Roy Rana, to its historic gold medal at the 2017 U19 world championships.

“I told R.J. at the end of the game in the handshake line, it’s nothing but love. I want to see him do well and I think he’s going to have a tremendous ‘one-year’ career at Duke,” Rana said.

JV Mukama led Ryerson with 20 points and 12 rebounds. The Rams, back-to-back Canadian university silver medallists, held their own for much of the first half against one of the NCAA’s most prominent teams. 

“You’re not going to see an athlete like R.J. and Zion Williamson every day so I think that bodes well for our season as we move forward,” Rana said. “We were able to compete for 40 minutes and had some stretches where I thought we looked really good against one of the top teams in the NCAA and an iconic program.

“As far as the experience is concerned, I mean, wow,” he added. “Not only the fact that it’s Duke, but an incredible crowd, great energy, just a real celebration of basketball in our country, really.”

The Rams led 17-15 to end the first quarter, and Tanor Ngom, a Senegalese sophomore, ignited the crowd with a huge dunk over Duke’s Alex O’Connell early in the game. O’Connell left the game and was taken to hospital with a suspected orbital bone injury. 

The Blue Devils started rolling in a second quarter highlighted by Williamson, who showed size-defying athleticism when he scored on a huge putback dunk. One sarcastic fan hollered “Show us something, Zion!”  At six foot seven and 285 pounds, Williams is an enigma. He could easily be mistaken for a college football rookie, yet has the leaping ability of a high jumper, breaking the Duke record with his eye-popping 45-inch vertical leap in team testing.

The Blue Devils took a 40-28 advantage into the halftime break, and led 65-48 with one quarter left to play.

Duke was technically the home team, despite the proximity of Ryerson’s downtown Toronto campus, and the capacity crowd — an arena sellout is listed at about 5,400 — was a sea of Duke blue. Tables on the arena concourse were selling special edition Duke Canada Tour T-shirts. Video footage of Duke’s boat tour of Toronto Harbour from earlier in the week was shown during a timeout.

And an hour before opening tipoff, a long lineup of Blue Devils fans stretched down the sidewalk of what was formerly the Hershey Centre, eager to get the first glimpse of this season’s squad and its homegrown Canadian star.

Duke is fourth in NCAA all-time wins, while Krzyzewski is the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach with five NCAA titles. He also led the U.S. men’s national team to six gold medals.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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