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By LARRY VAUGHT
Mississippi guard Devin Booker says he has “always heard about” Kentucky basketball, especially after the arrival of coach John Calipari four years ago.
“I know everybody in Kentucky loves the game. That’s the kind of spot where you want to play where people love the sport and pay attention to it. Some schools are only about football and don’t care about basketball. At Kentucky, it’s strictly basketball,” the 6-5 shooting guard, considered one of the top 25 players in the 2014 recruiting class, said.
Booker says his life “revolves around basketball” and that one reason he enjoys having his father Melvin, a former Missouri and professional basketball player, on the coaching staff at Moss Point High School.
“There are no minuses to having him with me. Probably the only minus is that he is hard on me,” Booker said. “But that just makes me better. It’s everything I can ask for. He’s been overseas to play and played in the NBA. He helps me immensely. Just being around him helps me. I lived with my mom until he got through playing, so being around him has helped teach me how to be a man on and off the court. He helps in everything I do.
“Both of our lives revolve around basketball. When we are at home, we watch games and watch my position a lot and what people are doing and not doing. We just sit and talk basketball. Our whole life is about the game.”
He says he was just a “shooter” when he first came to Mississippi to live with his dad. Now he’s more of a total player.
“I ran the point on my high school team and faced a lot of double teams,” Booker said. “I had to learn to get my shot off the dribble. I just don’t get open shots here. Everything is off the dribble. That’s why I would say I am more of a combo guard now.
“I also believe in always playing hard. That’s my dad’s personality and I am the same way. My dad told me coaches are out there looking at me and to always continue to play hard and big things would happen. That was true last year when I had a young team. You just have to deal with it and I took it as a challenge for me to get better. It made me learn to get my shot off and that will help me in college. Basketball is always a learning process.”
Others certainly are learning about him, too. He has scholarship offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Duke, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Mississippi and others. That includes a recent offer from Kentucky.
“John Calipari is one of the best in the game right now. He puts great teams together and wins national championships, and that’s what you want to do,” Booker said. “It did surprise me a bit when he came to my school and made the offer. I can’t lie. He said he had enjoyed watching me play and like what he had seen. But I was not expecting the offer from Kentucky.
“Him coming to offer me means a lot. He did it in person and in my home where I was putting in my work. To have a legendary coach walk through those doors and offer me a scholarship was unbelievable. I have visited most of the schools I have a big interest in. I hope to be at Kentucky, but I don’t have anything set up yet.”
Booker also knows he’s the first shooting guard in the 2014 recruiting class to be offered by Calipari.
“There are so many great talents in this class, to be the first guy at my position offered means a lot,” Booker said.
So does the list of players that Calipari has put into the NBA during his four years at Kentucky and before that at Memphis.
“You can’t help but notice that,” Booker said. “That is probably every hooper’s dream. They may not say it, but they all want to be there one day and so do I.”
Booker doesn’t plan on cutting down his list until after the summer. He says relationships are going to be important when he narrows his college choices.
“Trust in the coaching staff. I trust the players I’m going to be with. Know who I’m going to be playing with. I think that’s most important. It comes down to me trusting the coach and the coach trusting me,” Booker said. “I want to play with players I trust and like the game like I do and have the same goals to win the national title and get to the league (NBA).
“This is what I’ve always wanted. I would say a year or so ago no coaches, no websites knew about me. Now I’ve kind of blown up really. I’ve always wanted this opportunity.”
He says he’s “not close” to any of UK’s incoming freshmen even though he’s been at camps with them. He also knows some of the players Calipari is recruiting in his class.
“I would say right now I have high interest most definitely in Kentucky. It’s hard not to like Kentucky,” he said.