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AAU SNEAKER WARS ON HORIZON IN TORONTO?

By Canadian Ballers, 02/04/16, 12:30AM EST

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Uplay in pole position for RJ Barrett.

If you can’t put a face to the name RJ Barrett Jr., you’re not paying attention to grassroots basketball in Canada. Barrett is without question the most highly-touted Canadian high school basketball player since Andrew Wiggins and deservingly so.

For a freshman playing on the three time National Champions Montverde, it’s unfathomable what Barett Jr. is doing. Barett Jr. is leading Montverde in scoring. This after a historic summer representing Canada on the international stage. Despite being 15 among a team of 16-year-olds at the U16 FIBA Americas, Barrett Jr. averaged 14.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He also shot 55% from the field; a Canadian record for a Cadet.

Last season, Barrett Jr. travelled with Team Ennis —a highly-touted group of 2019 prospects which includes Cadets 6-4 PG Andrew Nembhard and 6-9 C Jaden Bediako.  Although his father declined to comment,  the entire 2019 team group is on the move according to multiple reliable sources. This is major news in the basketball recruiting market and to big business sneaker companies.

Sonny Vaccaro, the former Nike executive who changed the world when he signed Michael Jordan to his first shoe deal last month told GQ, “There have always been phenoms.” He said, “But where ten years ago the pressure and promises started in ninth or tenth grade, now it's seventh and eighth grade. Soon it'll be kindergarten.”

That Vaccaro quote says it all.  So where does Barrett Jr. end up now? For months the rumor swirling across Canada was that a second squad from Ontario would be extended an invite to play in Nike’s summer shoe league. There was a snag though— the Canadian Nike flagship program, CIA Bounce, who’ve produced a bevy of NBA draft picks including back-to-back number one NBA draft picks and many immediate impact players at the D1 level, have exclusive Nike Elite Youth Basketball League rights until the end of 2016.

Could Barrett Jr. consider playing with Florida-based Nike program, Each One Teach One (E1T1). An idea not farfetched, especially considering the politics in Toronto. Many people will throw stones not at Barrett Jr. but at his father, Rowan Barett Sr. Barett Sr., who is currently the Executive Vice President and Assistant General Manager of Canada Basketball, takes a lot of criticism back home. Faced with accusations of tailoring national programs for his sons best interest and sometimes silly conflict of interest complaints, it’s a battle Barrett Sr. will never win. With that said, sending Barett Jr. to play AAU with a Florida club has its pros and cons. With Barett Jr. earning phenom status by producing on the court, he gets his fair share of hate and envy. Playing for E1T1 would make Barett Jr. “hater-free” and silence the critics of Barett Sr. However, Barett Jr. has played his entire life with the same travel team. Going to E1T1 would be like tuning his back not only on his country but his brothers.

UPLAY vs E1T1

On Sunday night, UPLAY Canada, a former Adidas sponsored program, announced that they have signed a multi-year deal with Nike; a deal that will provide Barrett  Jr. and his 2019 squad the chance to play on the Nike circuit. UPLAY, who has a long list of D1 talent already, will travel on the Nike circuit at the U16 level, participating in qualifier tournaments for the elusive Sweet U16 Peach Jam championships in late July. In 2017, UPLAY will then join Bounce in the U17 divisiion. 

One Nike outfit CIA Bounce and their affiliate Jordan Brand Team Ennis program may have let a 2019 blue chip prospect get away, but even Sonny Vacarro would be hard pressed to find an AAU team that produced back-to-back NBA draft picks let alone four first-round draft picks in four years (Jamal Murray a lock to be drafted and Wiggins, Bennett and Ennis already in the league).

However when a distinguished hoops prospect like Barrett Jr. pops up, Nike is willing to build an infrastructure that supports Barrett Jr. This is the reality of grassroots basketball.

BIGGEST WINNERS ARE THE KIDS

With an already strong Under Armour club, Canada Elite, in place, it could mean the return of the AAU wars of the late 2000’s. Back then, pioneer program Grassroots (alumnus include Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Nike Stauskas and Dwight Powell) had the game monopolized before CIA Bounce entered the scene and a tug of war for talent began. Both clubs were looking over their shoulders constantly.

Will this cause a AAU sneaker war, orwill a landscape in Toronto with an Under Armour team, with two Nike teams, and the possibility of  Stackhouse YYZ and Grassroots Canada earning Adidas Gauntlet spots be a good thing? Five sneaker sponsored clubs within a 100 km radius. For Canadian ballers this change provides even more opportunity to showcase our talent. 

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