UK recruit Booker looks right at home in Ky. tournament

broberts@herald-leader.comDecember 8, 2013 

Devin Booker announced his commitment to play for the Wildcats on Thursday in Moss Point, Miss. The 6-foot-5 guard said he chose the Wildcats over other top programs because of Kentucky's tradition and the way Coach John Calipari plays big guards.


BENTON — From the moment he stepped onto the court Saturday night, Devin Booker looked right at home.

The shooting guard from Mississippi spotted fellow UK signee Trey Lyles in the crowd during warmups, and the two exchanged a head nod.

Before the opening tip, UK Coach John Calipari and assistants Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne strolled into the gym and sat a few feet away from Booker's bench.

Exactly 46 seconds into the first game he'd ever played in the state of Kentucky, Booker put up his first shot — a three-pointer from the wing.

Nothing but net, and nothing but cheers from the pro-UK crowd at the Marshall County Hoop Fest.

On the way off the court — and after he had dropped 40 points in a loss to Ballard — Booker stopped to sign several autographs as he made his way to the locker room.

His Moss Point squad was no match for the No. 1 team in Kentucky, but, in every other respect, Booker's mid-season trip to the Bluegrass State was a success.

"It was really exciting," he said afterward. "It's going to be basically my second home. Just to come up here and bring my teammates up here, you know. Not many of them travel very much and it was a great experience for us."

It wasn't an easy trip.

Moss Point earned a victory over one of its biggest rivals back in Mississippi on Friday night. As soon as the game was over, the team grabbed something to eat and hopped on the bus for a near-12-hour ride through the ice and the snow.

They didn't get to Marshall County until just before noon, which left only a little time for a nap before heading over the gym.

Nobody would have faulted them for cancelling the trip, as many other teams had during the week.

According to Moss Point Coach Micoe Cotton, that was never an option.

"No, no," he said, shaking his head emphatically. "I wanted my kids to play. They wanted to play. We were looking forward to this.

"The whole purpose was to get Devin and get my team up here so we could get this experience."

Cotton said he's had good teams and good players in the past, but never an opportunity to coach in an event that featured the kind of talent that comes to the Hoop Fest.

As a high school player, Cotton participated in the now-defunct King Cotton Classic in Arkansas and still has fond memories of that event.

He wanted his players to have a similar experience, something that they could remember 20 years from now.

Cotton said Booker wanted the same for his teammates.

"That's how he is," Cotton said. "He's the most humble guy. That's what he wanted. That's why he wanted to come. It was really ... not for Devin. Because Devin is getting ready to play here in Kentucky, and maybe go on to where he's going to see the world.

"He wanted these guys to experience some of the things he was going to experience. He doesn't mind bringing them along for the ride."

In the game itself, Booker scored half of his 40 points on free throws — making 20 of 24 from the line. He also shot 50 percent from the floor, grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and actually led the team with two assists. There were only five field goals that he didn't have a hand in.

While Cotton spoke to reporters after Saturday's game, Booker and some of his Moss Point teammates huddled around Calipari in a tunnel near the court.

"I don't want to say he's a perfect player, but he's a perfect teammate," Cotton said. "He's a hell of a teammate.

"I wish I had him for another year. I do."

But, this time next year, Booker will be a Kentucky Wildcat.

He's already building a relationship with his future college teammates. Booker said he and his fellow signees — Lyles, Karl Towns Jr. and Tyler Ulis — have a group text message going where they talk about topics related and unrelated to basketball.

Booker knows that Duke has passed UK in the recruiting rankings for 2014, but he said he still believes his is the best class in the country.

And he's looking to add to it.

One of the players he mentioned as a good fit was Huntington Prep's Montaque Gill-Caesar, who is currently in the Class of 2015 but considering a move to 2014 and looking hard at UK.

As Booker spoke, Gill-Caesar was warming up for his game just a few feet away.

The UK signee said he was going to go check him out, and maybe put in a good word for the Wildcats.

"If I see him, I'll talk to him. I'll let him know where home is supposed to be."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216Twitter: @NextCatsBlog:

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