Devin Booker is rated the No. 3 shooting guard in the country and the No. 23 player overall by Scout.com. (Courtesy of Sam Webb)
Devin Booker's recruiting stock had been among the highest in the 2014 class for well over a year, but it rose even higher recently when Duke and North Carolina added their names to an already impressive offer sheet. That development came on the heels of a stellar junior campaign, during which the 6-5, 190-pound combo guard averaged over 30 points per game for Moss Point (Miss.) High.
"He's more athletic, he's stronger, and he's definitely handling the ball much better than he did a year ago," said Booker's father Melvin. "Those are some of the things that we worked on. His jumper is always going to be there, but the other things kind of had to catch up with the jump shot.
"Last season his high school team had a lot of seniors, so he didn't have a lot of responsibility. This year we had a young team so I told him, 'You're going to have to take on a leadership role.' He faced a lot of junk defenses and double teams, and he had to figure out his way of how to be effective -- how to make his teammates better. That was the learning process this year for him. He did a good job of adjusting to the situation and changing his game. I think it's making him a much better player."
That was the type of growth the Booker family envisioned back in 2011 when they moved the talented youngster from his mother's home in Grandville, Mich., to his father's home down in Mississippi. The elder Booker was himself a standout guard at Missouri before embarking upon a professional career that saw him play in the NBA, CBA (Grand Rapids Hoops), and various European leagues. He has been successful in imparting much of the wisdom born of those experiences upon his son. Sometimes his delivery has mimicked the more reserved style of Hall of Fame North Carolina coach Dean Smith. Other times his message has been passed along with the fierceness another Hall of Famer, former Indiana coach Bob Knight.
"To be honest, Devin can play for both (types of coaches) because being Devin's coach, I've been Bob Knight to Devin before -- and he responded well to it," Melvin said, laughing. "Devin understands. He's a tough kid, he's a strong-minded kid, and he respects coaches, elders, and people in general. He's one of those kids that he won't do much to get yelled at. He does everything the right way, to be honest."
Dad isn't the only one with such a lofty view. Scout.com's latest rankings list Booker as a five-star prospect, the No. 3 shooting guard in the country, and the No. 23 player overall. Most recruiting observers have for a while believed it was only a matter of time before traditional powers like the Blue Devils and Tar Heels came beckoning. Now that they've arrived, many of those same observers are predicting that longtime suitors like Michigan and Missouri will lose ground. For his part, the younger Booker insists he is taking the newfound attention in stride.
"I don't want to say (the new offers) shake (my recruitment) up," Devin stated. "Obviously I'm going to give them a look because they're two powerhouse schools -- legendary schools. But it all comes down to whatever school best fits me. If the school doesn't fit me, I can't just go off the reputation of the school."
That kind of measured approach to recruiting has been largely influenced by dad. That's why father and son thought it was important to hit the visit trail together. Before a recent visit tour that took them to North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State and Michigan, the only recruiting trip that Melvin had accompanied his son on was to Missouri. That made it all the more important for the aforementioned suitors to capitalize on their opportunities.
"It's the little things I watch at these places," Melvin explained. "Don't get me wrong -- all these schools have great campuses and great facilities, but there are certain things I look at. I watch everything, like how the coach handles the players during the game on the bench and coming out of timeouts. (I also look at) the things I kind of visualize Devin doing out there in that position. The things I can't see on TV because they go to commercial break, I can see while sitting in the bleachers and get a better idea of the situation and how it would be when he gets there."
Michigan made the most of its chance to make a positive impression when the Bookers traveled to Ann Arbor earlier this month for the regular-season finale versus Indiana.
"It was crazy in there," recalled Devin. "I always enjoy going to Michigan. Last year, I was at the Ohio State game and it was crazy in there also. So the atmosphere was kind of nothing new to me, but I think my dad really enjoyed it also."
Michigan had wowed Booker's mother on past visits, and were clearly looking to have similar success with dad. They were able to do just that, even in defeat.
"Every school we visited, they won -- and that was the one place they didn't win," said Melvin. "Every game we went to I was like, 'Devin, I hope these guys win, because you have to meet with the coaches after the game.' Even after the game Beilein and his staff, they all had a positive attitude. I'm sure they wanted to win, but they also knew they had recruits in town they had to take care of, as well. They might have lost on the court, but you still have to try to win off the court. They did a pretty good job of that.
"The facilities are really, really nice at Michigan. The coaching staff is really energetic, and you can tell they're trying to keep the Michigan brand up as one of the top programs in the nation. And like I said, it was a big game, atmosphere was really good, and I enjoyed the entire process."
Among the moments that added to his son's excitement was the chance to reconnect with a fellow west Michigan native, Grand Rapids Christian wide receiver Drake Harris.
"Me and Drake text back and forth," the five-star guard said. "It's kind of rare when two kids come from the same city and get this highly recruited, so we just talk about things like that. Me and Drake are actually becoming kind of tight throughout the process."
Speaking of process, Booker's isn't close to concluding. Now that his recent visit flurry over, things are going to quiet down a bit.
"That's it (for visits) until probably after summer's out," Devin said. "We don't have a set timetable, but it was important to us to hit all these visits back to back to back so we can compare them up and then decide then. Probably my next go around of trips will be officials actually."
Mr. Booker added: "We're just reading the process. (Devin) and some of the other players are being recruited by the same schools, so the important thing for Devin is somewhere where he can go play right away. You have to look at all that -- style of play and how comfortable he is with that. I assume (the decision) is going to be in the early period, so after the summer we'll start making the official visits to the places and go from there. We're not going to rush the process because we want to make the right decision. The kid has a lot of great schools after him, so you have to take your time to make the right decision."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His Michigan recruiting column appears every Thursday at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.
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