Dwayne Washington first trained RJ Barrett when he was 12 years old. As director of the UPLAYCanada grass roots program, Washington also coached Barrett for several years. So he knows the 19-year-old well. And Washington is confident Barrett would be a perfect fit on and off the court in New York.
"If he goes to New York, the only thing he will be defined by is winning. It's not about, 'I'm here to get a check' or 'I made it to the league -- look momma, I made it.' His goals are so high and they all revolve around winning," Washington said in a phone interview with SNY. "I can't say that for everybody. But he's different."
Washington is a citizen of Canada but grew up in the Bronx. So he's not speaking with an out-of-town perspective when he discusses Barrett's fit in the Big Apple.
"He's been raised with a New York mentality. He's been playing basketball in New York since he was 4 years old," Washington said, referencing Barrett's visits to the city to visit his mother, Resha's, family (Barrett's father, Rowan, played college basketball at St. John's). "He fits in, he's a dog. He's (the kind of player) New York would say, 'Hey, this is what a New Yorker is.' He's an animal."
Barrett is expected to be available at the No. 3 pick, where the Knicks are slated to select. ESPN reported on Friday that the Knicks are thinking about potentially trading down with the Hawks for multiple picks, but a league source told SNY that the neither side is seriously considering the deal at the moment.
New York appears to be doing the same due diligence that any team with a top pick does ahead of the draft.
Washington cautions it would be a mistake for New York to pass on Barrett, which is expected given his relationship with the 19-year-old. But Washington cites Barrett's mental fortitude and desire to be in the city as evidence to support his position.
"RJ can take criticism. He's been in the media his whole life. He answers tough questions. He knew the spotlight would be on him (throughout high school and college)," Washington said. "And he wants New York! You've got guys running from New York. You've got guys that don't want that heat; they don't want the fire. They don't want the high expectations.
"You've got (players) who want to go to small towns so they can hide, make their money, cost of living is low and they're good. No, not RJ. He wants to be in New York."
Washington, a longtime Knicks fan, has seen athletes in the city struggle with the media and fan attention/expectations. He believes Barrett, a 6-foot-8 wing, can thrive in that atmosphere.
"You've got to be careful. You've got a slam dunk," said Washginton, who has coached other elite players such as Clippers guard Shai Gilgeous Alexander and Florida's Andrew Nembhard. "Wherever he goes, winning will happen,"
Washington also pushed back against evaluators who question whether Barrett's shooting (30.8 percent from behind the arc at Duke last season) can improve.
"If you want winning, you want to look at the lifetime of the athlete, you don't want to look at one year," Washington said of Barrett, the 2018 Gatorade National Player of the Year in high school.
On the idea of the Knicks passing on Barrett on draft night, Washington offered a bit of a warning to his hometown team.
"I'm a Knick fan, baby," he said. "... Be careful."