Canada has captured its first-ever world basketball title.
R.J. Barrett scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as Canada roared past Italy 79-60 on Sunday to win the FIBA U19 World Cup.
Nate Darling of Lower Sackville, N.S., and Abu Kigab of St. Catharines, Ont., each added 12 points for the team that had upset the United States 99-87 in the semifinals a day earlier.
A day after he poured in 38 points against the Americans, Barrett, a 17-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., earned tournament MVP honours. He went 3-for-13 from the field, and 12-of-14 from the free throw line against Italy.
Barrett, who battled players two years his senior in Egypt, is considered the world’s best player for his age and has been the consensus top basketball prospect from the Class of 2019 for well over a year.
Canada has never won a FIBA world title in any age group, nor an Olympic gold.
“They were mentally tough, they believed in themselves, and we found a way. Incredible moment for our country, for these kids…it’s unbelievable to be able to say that we’re the best team on the planet at the U19 age level. It’s hard to express what we’re feeling right now as a group,” said Canadian coach Roy Rana.
The Canadians, who had never played for a medal at this tournament, started the game slow but opened a gap with a 12-0 run in the first quarter and went into the dressing room with a sizable 51-36 halftime lead.
Barrett and Kigab, who were also named tournament all-stars, continued to pressure the Italians in the second half and opened a 26-point lead in the third quarter.
Starting point guard Lindell Wigginton of Dartmouth, N.S., returned to the Canadian lineup after missing the previous two games with an injury. He finished with 11 points, three rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes.
Rana also guided a team that Andrew Wiggins, now with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, to a bronze medal at the 2010 world under-17 championship.
“I don’t think anything was going to stop us tonight in the championship game. Incredible tournament, like most world championships. Lots of ups and downs, twists and turns, but our guys stayed in it,” said Rana.
Former NBA superstar Steve Nash took to Twitter to congratulate them.
David Albright Okeke led Italy with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Tommaso Oxilia and Lorenzo Penna chipped in with 12 apiece.