Although one of five ex-Cats on the Phoenix Suns’ roster, Devin Booker has not had his fill of familiar faces. Instead, he all but asks, how about six? Seven? Eight?
“If you want to make it to the NBA, this is where I always tell people to go.”
As recruiting pitches go, UK Coach John Calipari couldn’t have said it better.
With Tyler Ulis drafted in the second round last month, he joins Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin and Booker in Phoenix.
To say Booker will be the best of the bunch would not cause an argument in some NBA circles. Although just coming off his rookie season, Booker is already being talked about as someday becoming one of the best shooting guards in the league.
“It’s a good pressure to have,” he said. “I mean, obviously, I want to be the best ‘two-guard’ in the league. That’s why I play the game: To be the best.”
Booker saw being thrust into a lead role as a rookie being helpful. Injuries to other guards, including Knight and Bledsoe, led to added responsibility for Booker.
“I think this rookie year is going to shape the rest of my career in a positive way,” Booker said, “because I don’t think it’ll ever be like that again where a 19-year-old has the ball in his hands the whole game.
“But … it was good for me. I got to deal with the pressure being that main target. So hopefully down the line, I’m still going to have that main attention on me.”
What Booker said during a break in working a UK camp for children echoed comments he made earlier this year about someday being the NBA’s best shooting guard.
“I think I belong up there,” Booker told SB Nation. “Obviously a lot of people might not have me up there because I’m not proven yet, I’m still a rookie in this league and still have a lot to prove, but I know one day I’ll be named with the best of them.”
The perception of Booker as an NBA superstar in the making gained steam earlier last week when he caught the eye of Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn.
In his coverage of a Nike-sponsored camp for high school and college players at a hangar at Los Angeles International Airport, Winn wrote, “Former Kentucky one-and-doner Devin Booker was the best shooting guard on the floor in the scrimmages.”
Winn speculated about how big a college star Booker might have been had he returned to Kentucky for his sophomore season.
“At 19, Booker is still younger than most of the college campers, and the progress he’s made since leaving Kentucky — he’s added serious bulk and become a complete scorer — leads me to believe he would have been a national player of the year candidate had he stuck around for a couple of years in Lexington,” Winn wrote. “We only got to see him as a catch-and-shoot role player in college.”
Booker did not voice regret about leaving UK after his freshman season. After all, that’s what ex-Cats do.
As for more ex-Cats joining the Suns or other NBA teams in the future, Booker saw the production line continuing.
Incoming freshman Malik Monk joined Booker in shooting drills Saturday at the UK camp.
“They look like they’re going to be really special,” Booker said of incoming UK guards De’Andre Fox and Monk. “… Defensively, they should be one of Cal’s best teams. They have the length. They have the athleticism.
“So I think it should be real interesting. It should be real fun because I think it should be more fast-paced. A lot of dunks.”
‘Part of sacrificing’
Booker did not start a game in his one season for Kentucky. He agreed that his role for UK was largely that of a catch-and-shoot player.
“I’ve always known I could do the things I’m showing in the NBA,” he said. “I had to fit into the team. And that’s part of sacrificing. … Obviously, it played out well. I was still a lottery pick. I’m definitely fine with that.
“I wish I could have shown more to Kentucky fans. But at the end of the day, I feel I’m in a great situation. We made a lot of memories.”
Booker described being on the USA Basketball Select Team as a step toward fulfilling his dream of playing for the U.S. in the Olympics.
“I’m on the right road,” he said. “Obviously, the Olympics is something I want to do in the future. And hopefully, I can make that jump.”