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Queens Chronicle

RJ comes to NY

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2019 10:30 am

As expected, the Knicks selected Duke guard RJ Barrett with the third pick in the NBA Draft. It marked one of the rare times when New York fans attending any sports draft cheered for their team’s selection.

Although he grew up in Toronto, Barrett has constantly spoken of his affinity for New York. His father, Rowan, played for the St. John’s University Red Storm men’s basketball team while his mom was on the SJU track and field team.

In the media interview room at Barclays Center, I asked Barrett if he considered coming to Utopia Parkway for college not only because it was his parents’ alma mater but because he loves the Big Apple. “To be honest, they didn’t recruit me!” I followed up by asking if he considered attending Columbia University. “It was a thought!” he said with a broad smile.

It is to be seen whether Barrett will be as dominant an NBA player as he was at Duke last year but there is little doubt he possesses a ton of confidence. He wore a neon pink blazer that would have made Don Johnson’s “Miami Vice” character, Sonny Crockett, proud. When a reporter questioned him in French, Barrett answered him in his language fluently. “How did I do?” he asked the media in the front. “You made Justin Trudeau proud!” a reporter replied.

The verbal dustup between Mets manager Mickey Callaway (along with starting pitcher Jason Vargas) and Newsday beat writer Tim Healey following Sunday’s loss in Chicago wasn’t the first between a manager or player and a journalist and it surely won’t be the last.

The incident was completely out of character for Callaway who is more akin to Mister Rogers than Leo Durocher. Even the most easygoing type can snap after watching the Mets bullpen blow yet another game and Callaway took out his frustrations on Tim Healey, a determined reporter who doesn’t tolerate BS. Mets COO Jeff Wilpon immediately expressed his regrets to Healey and Callaway properly apologized to him the next day. The story became tabloid, sports talk radio and social media fodder.

What if this happened to a sportswriter from a smaller outlet who didn’t have the auspices of the Baseball Writers Association of America to protect him? As someone who has had to frequently battle for access with sports team PR honchos here is my educated guess: The Mets would have permanently pulled that reporter’s credential; there would be no apology emanating from Wilpon; it would receive no attention in the dailies and electronic outlets; and some of those BBWAA members who were understandably irked about what happened to one of their own would be high-fiving each other.

Getting back to the NBA Draft, Zion Williamson, who was chosen by the winners of the Draft Lottery in May, the New Orleans Pelicans, much to the chagrin of Knicks fans, is expected to be a player who can singlehandedly change a franchise’s fortunes the way that Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James did. If he accomplishes even half of what that triumvirate did on the hardwood he should be raking in endorsement deals until he is collecting Social Security.

Williamson was a teammate of Barrett’s at Duke and like Barrett he possesses a megawatt smile and a good sense of humor. When a writer from The New Yorker asked him about who his favorite New Orleans musician was and his favorite brass instrument, Williamson admitted that he was stumped. As he was leaving the podium I told him “trumpeter Louis Armstrong” and he flashed a big smile and nodded at me as if he should have responded with that answer.

Speaking of music, Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver, who will be playing next season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, grew up in Lubbock, Texas, which was also the hometown of the legendary rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly. Culver knew of Holly and called him a Lubbock icon but did not know any of his songs. I recommended that he check out “Maybe Baby.”

University of Kentucky guard Tyler Herro, who grew up in Greenfield, Wis., was drafted by the Miami Heat. I asked him which excited him more: playing in a state (Florida) that has no state income tax or the prospect of enjoying warm winters. “Definitely the warm winters. I am sick of snow!” he said.

Herro played high school against Jarred Kelenic, who was the Mets’ top draft choice in 2018 but was included in what now appears to be an ill-advised trade to the Seattle Mariners that brought second baseman Robinson Cano and relief pitcher Edwin Diaz to the Mets.

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