The Knicks' RJ Barrett dunks the ball during the first...

The Knicks' RJ Barrett dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA game against the 76ers on Wednesday in Philadelphia. Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

PHOENIX — Across the country in Durham, North Carolina, a huge contingent of Duke alumni was gathering for Mike Krzyzewski’s final game coaching at Cameron Indoor Stadium. But RJ Barrett was preparing for Friday night’s game against the Suns and then heading to Los Angeles for Sunday’s meeting with the Clippers.

"Man, I wish I can be there," Barrett said. "I wish I can be there. Coach K is a great person overall. Great coach, one of the best to ever do it. I loved playing for him. One of those coaches, when he really gets a team together, he gets everyone together to play for each other and win. I’m happy for him. He gets his farewell tour. I’ll definitely be tuned into the game. Congrats to him."

While Barrett treasures his place in the Duke fraternity, he has moved on to another fraternity. And while he added his voice to the tributes to Coach K and will watch the game Saturday on television — likely with Cam Reddish, his teammate at Duke and with the Knicks — he has spent more time in the NBA than he did at Duke, more time with the Knicks than in Durham and more time under Tom Thibodeau than learning from Krzyzewski.

Duke helped make him who he is, helped make him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He still speaks to the coaches at Duke regularly, getting calls and texts of advice and congratulations. But two seasons after being a rookie with questions surrounding him, he is approaching the status of being the face of the Knicks’ franchise. That was made clear last week by the NBA fraternity.

Barrett returned from a sprained ankle by scoring 46 points against Miami in the first game out of the All-Star break. Afterward, the Heat’s Jimmy Butler, who is a charter member of the Thibodeau fraternity, playing for him in Chicago and Minnesota, said, "We all know he’s capable of that. I don’t think anybody is surprised or should be surprised. He’s definitely going to be playing in this league for a long time, and he’s going to be the face of the Knicks."

"It’s a huge compliment, for sure," Barrett said. "Especially from him, who worked his way up to become the face of the franchise [in Miami]. Also, he played for Thibs and kind of knows what I’m going through, what’s going on. It’s a huge compliment from him."

Said Thibodeau, "When I had taken the job, and just talking to Coach K about him, the way he talked about his makeup, he said you’re going to love him. You’re going to love coaching him and you’re going to love who he is. He was a hundred percent correct. He’s even-keeled, doesn’t get too high or too low. And he’s driven. I always say we all tend to measure guys, where they are today, and we forget all the steps that they take along the way to get to where they are today. What we’re seeing with RJ is steady improvement."

That path to stardom hasn’t been an easy one. In his one season at Duke, in which Barrett was paired with Zion Williamson and Reddish, the season ended short of the goal as Duke lost in the Elite Eight. In a rough rookie campaign, he was didn’t make the NBA’s All-Rookie first or second team. He hasn’t forgotten that snub.

Entering Friday night’s game against the Suns, Barrett was averaging a career-high 18.9 points per game. He had averaged 24.0 points in his previous 23 games and had scored 100 points in his previous three.

Now he has heard the whispers that he could be approaching All-Star status next season, and he is on board.

‘‘I’d be crazy to tell you that that’s not where my mind is," Barrett said. "Of course I’m thinking about that. It’s a goal of mine. I definitely want to get there. It’s also knowing team success is a big part of getting there, too. I think those things go hand in hand."

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