NEW YORK -- For all the hype over Zion Mania on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, it might have been easy to overlook his teammate RJ Barrett.
The 6-foot-7 Barrett had far from his best game in his Garden debut, but came on strong down the stretch and finished with 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting with three rebounds as No. 2 Duke beat No. 11 Texas Tech 69-58.
Before Zion Williamson established himself as the projected No. 1 pick in the eyes of most everyone, Barrett held that position entering the season. Now, the Mississauga, Ontario, native and the son of former St. John's star Rowan Barrett has "fallen" ... all the way to No. 2 on most mock drafts.
Knicks president Steve Mills, assistant GM Allan Houston and players Kevin Knox and Emmanuel Mudiay, as well as a slew of other NBA personnel, were on hand for the game.
Afterward, Barrett dressed at Allonzo Trier's locker in the Knicks locker room and traded jokes with Williamson over the heads of journalists, with each mimicking reporters by shouting to the other, "Do you want to play for the Knicks?"
"I mean, it's cool," Barrett told SNY.tv of being in the Knicks locker room. "You grow up watching these teams play on TV and you get to be in the locker room. I'm sitting at my guy Allonzo Trier's locker and he's my guy, so it's a great experience for us."
The Knicks (9-24) currently own the fifth-worst record in the NBA and have a 42 percent chance at a top-4 pick in the NBA Draft, and a 10.5 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick, per Tankathon.com.
Some segment of Knicks fans believe the team should go full-tilt tank in an effort to land Williamson or Barrett. But although they are fielding a very young team featuring rookies Trier, Knox and Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks are not fully committed to "Stop Tryin' for Zion" or to "Give It All Away for R.J."
"Tank?" Knicks coach David Fizdale said before the season began. "We will not ever tank."
For his part, Barrett says he's not paying attention to talk of tanking and tanking slogans. He has more immediate goals in mind.
"I'm not really paying attention to them," he said. "I'm still here at Duke so we gotta win a national championship."
Barrett was the consensus high school National Player of the Year last season, and led Montverde (Fla.) Academy to an undefeated season and the GEICO High School National Championship at Christ the King High School. In 2016, his Montverde team lost in the semifinals of what was then called the DICK'S Sporting Goods High Schools Nationals. Had they beaten a Brian Bowen-led La Lumiere (Ind.) team in that 2016 semifinal, Barrett would have played his first game at the Garden in April 2016.
"We lost in the semifinals so we couldn't come play here," Barrett said.
The left-hander is Duke's leading scorer at 23.8 points per game; has averaged 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists; and has scored at least 20 points in all but two games. He's shooting 32 percent from deep (22-of-69).
Barrett appears to be a prototypical NBA wing who can score at all three levels. He has taken some heat this season for playing "hero ball" and not looking to pass, especially at key times down the stretch. But many of his misses have come off wide-open looks or shots in the paint, which are shots
"My 3-point shot has really been falling this whole year and then the past two games I've hit a little bit of a slump," he said. "I've just gotta get out of it. I've really been working on my right-hand finishes. The past two games I've actually made more layups with my right than with my left."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has nothing but praise for Barrett's work ethic and winning mentality.
"I love RJ," Krzyzewski said. "RJ's big time. There are just times where you're not going to be able to score. He was missing some shots that he'd normally make and they were making him take some shots that were a lot more pressured. It's a combination, but he had some open looks, but once he was missing, he was I call it a 'gunny sack' or taking the misses with you where you know put pressure on yourself to score because you haven't. And you can't do that. And that's what I talked to him about at halftime."
Barrett has drawn comparisons to James Harden (another left-hander) and Tracy McGrady.
"I think his mentality is more like Kobe [Bryant] because he's very driven, he's very confident but he's a good teammate," Barnett's AAU coach Dwayne Washington said. "The Harden thing is because he's left-handed." Washington added that Harden was primarily known as a shooter, while Barrett may be a better ball-handler at this stage.
Barrett is part of a rising tide of Canadian talent. If he were to go No. 1 in the NBA Draft, he would be the third Canadian since 2013 to do so, after Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. In next year's draft, several other Canadians are also projected as first-round picks, including Arizona State point guard Luguentz Dort and Virginia Tech guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
"It's definitely cool to see, especially all the guys I grew up with," Barrett said. "Everybody's doing well and everybody's achieving their goals so it's great to see Canadian basketball on the rise."