CAIRO (FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017) - A day after exorcizing a long-time demon, Canada slain a well-known dragon and are now one game from winning the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 and their first youth men's global title.
RJ Barrett collected 38 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists as Canada beat two-time reigning champions United States 99-87 in the Semi-Finals, booking a ticket to the Final against Italy.
The importance of Canada's historic victory coming in their first U19 Semi-Finals was not lost on the country's young hero.
"It means a lot. We beat the USA, we beat the champs. Hopefully we can be the champs tomorrow," said Barrett, who is less than a month removed from his 17th birthday, making him two years younger than the rest of the competition in Cairo.
Danilo Djuricic, who scored 8 points including two big three-pointers, said it was clear on the court how important Barrett is to this team.
"You saw it. He carried us in the first half. He had way more than all of us combined (20 first half points). He’s the reason we were in the game," said Djuricic, who played with Barrett last summer at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup. "RJ led us and he's been leading us the whole tournament - scoring, passing, rebounds. He’s doing it all for us. And he's being a great leader."
We beat the USA, we beat the champs. Hopefully we can be the champs tomorrow. - Barrett
Canada had never beaten their neighbors to the south in five previous games in this tournament - including losses to the USA in the Quarter-Finals in 2009 and 2013.
Canada came into the tournament having lost at the Quarter-Finals three times in the last four editions, including in 2015 against Croatia. This time around, Barrett and the team knocked off a high quality France team - getting over their Quarter-Finals demons.
Then came the United States.
"USA is always a big target in these tournaments and they're always the ones to beat. To knock them out in the Semis, this is something we’ve been waiting for," Djuricic said. "It's been a topic for a long time. Can Canada beat the US. Can Canada hang with the US. We proved today that we are right up there. It just has to translate through all the age groups to continue to work."
Djuricic actually has a special bond with Barrett when it comes to facing the United States, which is also shared with U19 teammates Grant Shephard and Noah Kirkwood. That quartet was beating the United States by 20 points after 11 minutes in the FIBA U16 Americas Championship 2015 final but ended up losing by 17 points. And it represents a moment where Canada saw they could compete but just didn’t finish the job.
That happened in Cairo in the Semi-Finals
"It's just an unbelievable thing. It’s a game changer for us," said Canada Basketball President and CEO Michele O'Keefe. "I just hope the Canadian basketball community is taking notice because i think a lot of the things that we have been working on for a lot of years are falling into place and this is a great win for them."
The Quarter-Final demon has been exorcized and the USA dragon has been slain. Now it's time for Canada Basketball to claim their spot in history books for ever.