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Knicks rookie RJ Barrett expecting big Canadian welcome home for matchup with Raptors

RJ Barrett of the Knicks controls the ball

RJ Barrett of the Knicks controls the ball against the Spurs at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

RJ Barrett didn’t play Monday night, and sat out practice Tuesday. He felt good enough to talk to reporters before the team left for Toronto Tuesday, but was still politely coughing into the crook of his elbow during the interview.

Barrett says he is on the mend. And there is no way he will miss playing Wednesday night’s game against the defending champion Toronto Raptors.

This will be the first NBA game in Canada for the Knicks 19-year-old rookie, who grew up in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. Barrett, whom the Knicks made the No. 3 overall pick in this summer’s draft, is a fan favorite in Canada. The godson of Hall of Famer Steve Nash, Barrett played extensively for Canadian junior national teams growing up. His father, Rowan Barrett, is the current general manager of Canada’s national team.

“It means a lot,” Barrett said of the game. “Everybody kind of feels something for where they grew up, where they came from. For me, Canada, the whole country had my back. I love them for that.”

Barrett, who was nicknamed "Maple Mamba" in college, led an impressive wave of Canadians into the NBA this year. Barrett was the highest pick of a record six Canadians selected in the 2019 draft. For draft day, he wore a bespoke pink suit that had a maple-leaf patterned lining as a tribute to his home country.

The 6-7 shooting guard said he is also planning on wearing something special on the court for his Canadian fans on Wednesday, but declined to reveal the details of his plan.

Barrett has been a strong two-way player for the Knicks. In 16 games, he has averaged 15.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

Barrett said he hasn’t been feeling well since Saturday when the Knicks played San Antonio.

“I was coughing like crazy during that game,” he said. “But definitely when I got to the arena [for the Nets game Sunday] I started to feel weak. I haven’t missed a game since I was like 11. So for me to not be able to play kind of stunk. I’m happy that it’s not taking too long and I’m feeling better.”

The Raptors reportedly are planning a tribute to the Canadian National team in honor of Barrett’s return. Barrett said he has no idea how many friends in family he will have at the game, because he is letting his parents organize the ticket requests. He said people began reaching out to him for tickets the day the NBA schedule came out.

“Oh yeah. Everybody is trying to show love,” he said. “Everybody is trying to support. So I’m just very thankful.

Barrett is officially listed as questionable, but Knicks coach David Fizdale recognizes how much this game means for his rookie guard.

"It's always good to go home and play in front of your family and friends that's known you your whole life," Fizdale said. "I know he wants to go up there and perform for them. I don't think he wants to miss this one."

Notes & quotes: Also listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game are Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina. Both were kneed in the thigh in Sunday’s game.

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