Shooting guard Booker excited to get UK offer

broberts@herald-leader.comApril 27, 2013 

HAMPTON, Va. — Two days after offering Devin Booker a scholarship to the University of Kentucky, Coach John Calipari was perched on the bleachers for the junior guard's first game of the weekend.

Toward the end of the first half, Booker flew out of bounds chasing down a loose ball, landed face first on the synthetic track circling the court and slid into a group of college coaches.

Calipari scooted forward in his seat to make sure his newest recruit was OK. Before the UK coach had finished the "Whoaaa" that came out of his mouth when Booker hit the ground, the player was back on his feet and hustling down the court to play defense.

That's why Calipari wants him to be a Wildcat.

"He said he likes how I play hard all the time and that I don't back down to pressure," Booker said after the game.

Until three weeks ago, the 6-foot-4 junior shooting guard wasn't even on UK's radar. Booker said he started texting with UK assistants Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne after his high school season ended, but no one from UK's coaching staff had seen him play until last weekend's opening session of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League in Los Angeles.

Calipari was in the crowd for a couple of his games during that event. On Wednesday, he made his way to Booker's high school in Moss Point, Miss., for a visit.

The result was unexpected.

"I really didn't know it was coming," Booker said. "Calipari texted earlier in the week and he said he saw what he needed to see and he liked my game a lot. And with him coming down, I thought he was just going to touch base. You know, he doesn't give out many offers, and for him to offer, that was a big deal.

"It means a lot. With all the great players out here, and for me to be selected one of them to get offered — that means a lot."

Calipari might like Booker's hard work on the court, but there's plenty of skill in there too.

Scout.com rates Booker as the No. 23 overall player in the class, and most recruiting services list him as the No. 3 shooting guard behind Rashad Vaughn, who already has a UK offer, and Louisville native D'Angelo Russell.

"He's arguably the best shooter in the 2014 class," Scout.com's Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. "He shoots it well off the catch. He's developing his off-the-dribble game. He's started developing a mid-range jump shot. He has deep range and a really quick release.

"It's clear that he spends a lot of time in the gym. He's a guy with a good background, too. His father played at Missouri."

Melvin Booker was actually the Big Eight Player of the Year as a point guard at Mizzou in the early 1990s. The elder Booker played 32 games in the NBA before a successful overseas career that included stops in Italy, Turkey and Russia.

Devin Booker grew up with his mother in Michigan while his dad pursued a professional career. When Melvin returned to the United States and settled in his native Mississippi, his son moved down to join him.

The hope was that Devin could elevate his game by being around Melvin, who is an assistant coach at Moss Point High School and also helps out with the EYBL's Alabama Challenge.

"With my dad being there on the bench, and him playing in the league and playing overseas, he's teaching me a lot of things I didn't know before I went down there," Devin Booker said. "He's helped me out a lot. He was a point guard — he's teaching me to have a natural feel for the game."

Booker was already known in the state of Michigan before he moved south, but his recruitment has taken off under the tutelage of his father.

In addition to UK, Booker's offer list includes Duke, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri and Mississippi State.

How much do those schools want him? Seven of the eight head coaches recruiting Booker showed up in Moss Point for in-person visits before the period for such contact ended Wednesday night.

The only one who didn't was Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, and he had a pretty good excuse.

"We had a tornado warning at my place, so they couldn't get in," Booker said. "I'm not going to be mad at them for it. That was a weather condition, so it's not really his fault."

The last coach to visit was Calipari, who delivered his usual spiel about how UK "isn't for everybody" and warned Booker of the attention he would get in Lexington.

"He just said that a lot of pressure comes with playing at Kentucky," Booker said. "He said Big Blue Nation are obviously wild, and if you have a bad game they're going to get on you. But that's the kind of pressure I like."

When the news of a UK offer hit Twitter on Wednesday evening, Booker got a sneak peek at what Calipari was talking about.

"It was crazy," he said with a laugh. "I think I gained like 800 followers in one night, so that was wild. All the Big Blue Nation followers tweeting at me the whole night. I actually had to shut off my phone for a little bit. It was out of control."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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