When asked what he was anticipating in Montreal, Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t mince words.
“I’m looking forward to beating McGill,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s first. Do you want a list?”
The Duke Canada tour—the Blue Devils’ three-game pre-season trip to two iconic Canadian cities in August—was off to a wonderful start for Krzyzewski’s squad. After two victories against Ryerson University and the University of Toronto, the team had finished their business in Toronto. Their next stop was Montreal for an Aug. 19 date with the McGill Redmen.
In addition to the game itself, the team was thrilled to have the chance to visit Montreal.
“It’s one of those cities where you hear about it a lot, but I mean I’ve just never been,” Duke star freshman Zion Williamson said. “I’m very excited.”
The Blue Devils arrived to much fanfare. With a practice at Love Competition Hall scheduled for Aug. 18, the day before the game, the Blue Devils put on a show for the city of Montreal and McGill students. The team ran drills while Krzyzewski and Associate Head Coach Jon Scheyer spoke to the packed house and explained what was going on.
For the three Canadian teams, taking on the NCAA heavyweight was a chance to tout the strength of their own programs to the world. Ryerson kept the final margin within 20; University of Toronto showed some shotmaking ability. Finally, came McGill’s turn, and when the 3 p.m. tip-off rolled around, it was immediately apparent that fifth-year point guard Alex Paquin came to play. The American University transfer scored half of McGill’s points, showing off his arsenal of dribble moves and knocking down long jump shots. Out of McGill’s 58 points, Paquin put up 29.
“Ever since I knew we were playing Duke, I got my butt in the gym and I worked really, really hard this summer because I knew it was coming,” Paquin said in an interview posted to the McGill Athletics and Recreation’s Facebook page. “I wanted to really show everyone that I could do it.”
But, ultimately, the Duke Canada tour was still all about Duke, led by the powerful freshmen duo of Williamson and Ontario native R.J. Barrett. Over 10,000 basketball fans piled into Laval’s Place Bell to watch the two NBA prospects’ electrifying performance. Barrett put 20 points on the board—including two in the dunk pictured above—and added 10 assists. Williamson, too, was phenomenal: He scored a game-high 36 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. The pair teamed up for plenty of highlight-reel moments, like a third-quarter alley-oop.
“It’s great when you’re able to get the ball, and you’re wide open, and you see the crowd standing on their feet,” Williamson said. “To describe that feeling, you would have to actually be in that situation. The ball is in your hands with thousands of people watching you, and they’re just waiting to see what you’re going to do. It’s a very thrilling moment.”
Teamwork was on full display in each of the three contests of the tour; so, it came as a surprise that it was the freshmen’s first slate of games together. Barrett showed particular prowess—and enjoyment—in sharing the ball.
“When my teammates score, I’m very happy for them,” Barrett told reporters after Duke’s 96-60 win against Toronto. “If I throw a lob to Zion (Williamson), that’s the most fun time of the game. I really like for everyone to do well and be successful.”
Williamson, meanwhile, noted the special connection he and Barrett share.
“Me and R.J. have really good chemistry,” Williamson said on Aug. 15 in Toronto. “We were roommates over the summer, so we developed a very good brotherly bond. Me and him have a connection on the court that [allows us to] both know what we’re about to do with the ball.”
Duke dominated their three affairs up north, concluding their tour with a 103-58 win over the Redmen. However, there was plenty to be proud of for Canadian basketball: A strong effort, raucous, sold-out crowds for all three games, and R.J. Barrett himself. The future is bright for Canadian basketball.
“As good as we thought we’d feel about the whole experience, it’s exponentially better,” Krzyzewski said. “Thank you for that. The three coaches and their teams, they were fabulous in preparing and testing us.”
After the tour, Duke returned to Durham, North Carolina to prepare for the upcoming season, which begins on Nov. 6 with a game against the Kentucky Wildcats. As for McGill, the Redmen will look to top the RSEQ conference once more—a tough task that will start with their Nov. 8 game against the Université du Québec à Montréal Citadins.