Contributed By: Chris McKee (Twitter: @mrmckee)
TORONTO - Over the past decade, dozens of the top programs in the NCAA have ventured north of the border to play against Ontario University Athletics (OUA) schools as part of their pre-season schedule. The likes of Ole Miss, Vermont, and South Dakota State have already hit the court against various OUA schools this summer, along with the Cincinnati Bearcats, who made it to the second round of this year's NCAA March Madness tournament.
Cincinnati got the better of the Ottawa Gee-Gees, 85-57, but followed that up by getting beaten handily by Carleton 86-67, who also made easy work of Ole Miss a few days later (81-63). The Ravens have now beaten eight straight NCAA schools that have come north to the nation's capital, continuing their tale as one of the truly elite programs in all of university basketball.
But while fans have caught yet another glimpse of what one of the top programs in all of U SPORTS can do, they are also about to witness one of the best the NCAA has to offer, with a pair of OUA squads set to do battle against a program that is no stranger to success.
Duke University will be travelling to Canada this week for the first time in school history to play a series of exhibition games which includes two stops in Ontario.
Legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils will square off against the Ryerson Rams on Wed August15 followed by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues on August 17, with both games taking place at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre (formerly the Hershey Centre). The Blue Devils will then wrap up their trip in Montreal against McGill on August 19 at the Bell Centre.
Duke University is led by Mississauga born freshman RJ Barrett, who was the No. 1 ranked recruit in North America this past year and is widely regarded as the potential No. 1 overall pick in next year's NBA draft.
Barrett has spent some time this summer starting for the Canadian Men's Senior National team alongside several NBAers, including Kelly Olynyk, Cory Joseph, and Dillon Brooks, and was a dominant force for Canada while playing against professionals from all over the world.
Barrett and the Blue Devils will certainly bring a stiff test to the two Greater Toronto Area squads, as Duke is well-regarded as one of the most storied programs in NCAA basketball. Beyond their on-court talent, Duke has been led by one of the best in the business behind the bench.
Krzyzewski is starting his 39th season as the Blue Devils head coach, a tenure that includes five NCAA national championships and 12 appearances in the NCAA Tournaments Final Four. Krzyzewski has also been the head coach for Team USA, where he has led the Americans to three straight Olympic Gold Medals (2008 Beijing, 2012 London, and 2016 Rio de Janeiro).
Ryerson and U of T players will also have the opportunity to showcase their skills on national TV against several other potential NBA draft picks in fellow Duke freshmen Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson, ranking as the No. 2 and No. 3 recruits behind Barrett.
The 6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson is a walking highlight reel, having racked up millions of views on YouTube for his thunderous dunks, while Reddish is already being compared to NBA star Paul George.
The Varsity Blues finished the 2017-18 campaign with a strong 14-10 record, before bowing out to the Laurentian Voyageurs in the post-season, but will look to turn in a similarly strong effort against Duke this week. Ryerson, meanwhile, is no stranger to taking down heavyweight talent, and is coming off an impressive season wherein they not only did just that in the U SPORTS Final 8 against the Carleton Ravens, but also came within mere seconds of a national championship win against Calgary (79-77).
There's no doubt that all eyes will be on the court this week, and with each stop being televised live on TSN across Canada and on ESPN in the United States, this will surely be a significant opportunity to bring some much-deserved attention towards OUA basketball.
For more info on Duke's pre-season Canada tour go to www.dukecanadatour.com