By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s what his coach calls an “efficient player” who doesn’t mind working to make himself better, something that coaches like John Calipari of Kentucky like about Mississippi guard Devin Booker.
“He is a smart player, too, along with being a hard working player,” said Moss Point (Miss.) coach Micoe Cotton. “His work ethic is non stop. He puts in hours working on his game just trying to get better at his craft. He’s an excellent shooter, but the strongest part of his game is his basketball IQ and decision making.
“He’s a Calipari-type guard because his efficiency is good. He makes mistakes, but he’s cutting down a lot on them. And he always plays hard. Our team does not have any other Division I player or even scholarship players. He has seen every defense — double team, trap, hedges, box-and-one. He saw it all last year. He did not get frustrated with anything. He just plays through it and tries to make his teammates better. That’s what I love and why it is a joy coaching him.”
Scout.com rates Booker as the No. 23 overall player in the 2014 recruiting class and ESPN.com has him No. 19. 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.
Booker has scholarship offers from Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri and Mississippi State.
“He’s a very good kid, too. A great student. All the kids at school really like him,” Cotton said. “He’s one of the few kids I’ve ever coached that everybody likes because he is such a humble kid. He’s enjoying all this attention, but he’s also humble about it.”
Booker’s father, Melvin, is Cotton’s assistant coach. Melvin Booker was the Big Eight Player of the Year as a point guard at Missouri and played 32 games in the NBA before a successful overseas career that included stops in Italy, Turkey and Russia. Devin Booker lived with his mother in Michigan while his father was playing overseas and then moved to Mississippi with his father when his father’s playing career ended.
“His dad guides him to know what he is looking for (in a college),” Cotton said. “But he is going to let him make his own decision. He just gives him advice. It’s not my decision. I have the joy of coaching him and letting him play and be the best he can be. The recruiting part has nothing to do with me. That’s up to Devin with his dad guiding him. He just has to find the best scenario to fit him.
“But it’s really fun for me to have a guy like Melvin who has been in the league to help me with player development. His expertise is so great. To watch him work with his son has been fun. But it has gone by so fast. We have one more year and that’s why I want it to be as great as possible for everybody.”
Calipari extended a scholarship offer to Booker, the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior, during a visit to Mississippi and then watched him play last weekend in Hampton, Va.
“I met Calipari when he was here and took a picture. It was a beautiful thing,” Cotton said. “He has always had my respect. I think a lot of him. I just think he is the kind of guy who could help bring out the best in Devin. He helps players accomplish what dreams they are trying to reach.”
Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne is a former Mississippi prep standout. Cotton actually played high school basketball against him.
“Kenny was a senior and I was a sophomore, so he probably doesn’t remember playing against me,” Cotton said. “I ended up having the luxury of coaching at his high school a couple of years back. Me and him talked when he was an assistant at Oregon.
“Devin probably didn’t know that much about Kenny, but now he’s very aware of what he accomplished in Mississippi and at the college level at Louisville. He definitely knows who Kenny Payne is now.”