Devin Booker Growing before Our Eyes

Today’s NBA is seeing a changing of the guard: players who have dominated this game over the last decade are getting older and the younger guys are stepping up. Kobe Bryant has retired and players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are aging. One now has to wonder: who are the future players to continue on the legacy of this great sport?

 

Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Anthony Wiggins are a few of the names that come to mind. However, Devin Booker should be on that short list as well. Drafted 13th in the 2015 draft, this 20-year old has accolades that put him in categories with living legends.
Booker is the fourth youngest player to reach 1,000 points following Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. He’s breaking records and setting himself in a category of his own. He’s already gone from being the youngest player in the league last season to being a franchise player. It’s for these reasons why we should watch the Phoenix Suns more closely as we can observe a future phenomenon growing right before us.

Life in Moss Point–Where it all Started:

To understand Devin Booker, you must trace his roots back to Moss Point, Mississippi. Unlike suburban Grand Rapids, Michigan where he’s originally from, Moss Point is more like an inner city engulfed by poverty. In Grand Rapids, Booker lived with his mother, sister, and brother. There he lived a middle-class, Midwestern lifestyle. Though he was emerging as a basketball player there, the level of competition wasn’t up to par with his skills and he needed to be with his father, who played professional basketball for several years. Booker at a very young age decided to leave suburbia and go to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The transition wasn’t easy for him, however; he accredits a lot of what we see in his game today from what he learned in Coastal Mississippi.

If you ever watched me play–the aggression I show.. the competitive nature I show… the toughness. It all comes from Moss Point,” he said.

 

In 2011, Booker made a decision to move to Mississippi because as his father stated in the latest Nike Commerical, Start from Somewhere, “Devin needed a challenge.”

The challenge for Booker would come in two folds. He would face tougher competition like he had hoped. Additionally, he would have the challenge of adjusting to this new life that Booker described as “a culture shock”

 

“I credit Michigan a lot,” said Booker. “But once I made that move to Mississippi that’s when the grit came out of me, the toughness. It just made me want to grind that much harder. It’s a culture shock. You know for a kid that’s going to be a freshman in high school. It’s a major change. You’re uncomfortable. For what you’ve been raised for your whole life and then moving to a totally different state. Especially from a suburban school to more of an inner city school. It was way different for me. I ended up adjusting well. Turned out to be one of the best decisions I made in my life and I accredit it {Moss Point} to a lot of success I’ve had so far.”

 

Taking his talents to Lexington, KY:

Devin Booker would commit to the University of Kentucky to join a powerhouse program. His teammates that year were: Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison, just to name a few. With these 5-star recruits, Booker wasn’t looked at as a leader, but known as a contributor because of his shooting abilities.  At that time, people made comparisons between him and Klay Thompson. At Kentucky, Booker learned how to play with other high-level talents. They would have a successful season but lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four in 2015.

 

During his time at Kentucky, he averaged roughly 10 points and played about 21 minutes a game. Playing with elite players, hindered Booker in some respects. Mainly because he wasn’t able to showcase his talents due to the star-studded roster. This caused people to doubt Booker’s game and what he would bring to the next level.

 

 

Though he was drafted as a lottery pick, many wondered how could he truly contribute to the NBA facing stiffer competition and arguably less talent around him.

Learning in Phoenix:

Booker has said in the past without the decision of going to Moss Point, MS, he wouldn’t be where he is today. Now, he’s in Phoenix continuing to solidify himself as a leader, despite being in his second season in the NBA. The first thing Booker must do is lead this team to a winning record. He said one of the issues with the Suns is just that.

“I say just a winning mindset,” said Booker when he was asked what more does it take for this team to make it to the next level. “We’ve been losing a lot. Especially over these last two years and I feel like everybody is comfortable with that. We expect to lose.”

Wins have been hard to come by for the 16-37 team that has potential but has not turned the corner just yet. In order for the team to do so, they will rely on Booker to take them places this franchise haven’t been to since 2010. Booker admits in this growing process that he must be more vocal when on the court and lead by example.

That is easier said than done. Losing can take a toll on a player but what keeps Booker from being is despair is understanding the history of basketball.

You just look at the past. The teams that had young players that have now developed to those stars in the league. OKC, when they were in Seattle and the first year when Kevin Durant was there. Then draft Russell Westbrook and they were taking losses their first year. Now, they’re top players in the league and title contenders,” said Booker.

No Pressure:

When 5-time NBA Champion Kobe Bryant tells you to “be legendary” and compares playing against you in his farewell tour to what he did with Michael Jordan when he first got into the league, it says a lot about your basketball ability. Even recently, when Booker scored 27 points in eight minutes. His head coach Earl Watson said to reporters that it reminded him of Bryant. Breaking records and continuing to be placed amongst those great players can be overwhelming. However, Booker doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s not overwhelming,” said Booker.  “Because at the end of the day that’s why I play the sport to be the best at it. Hearing those names {James and Bryant} obviously it does put a lot of pressure on you but at the same time a good pressure. It brings the best out of you. They were saying, Kobe’s going to be the next Mike, LeBron going to be next Kobe, so it’s a title that’s on your back that you keep striving towards it.”

What does this all Means?

Devin Booker’s ceiling is high and there’s no disputing that. However, for him to really be recognized, he must do something that Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James have all done: win. The Suns are young and these are the developing stages to something special. If this organization continues to build around Booker. However, the personnel must buy into “trusting the process.” We’ve seen organizations have talent in years past and grow into something elite.

Look at the Golden State Warriors as an example: prior to their recent success over the last few seasons, the Warriors were a fairly average team boasting a ton of potential. Now, their success has changed not only the landscape of the Western Conference but the rest of the NBA. Perhaps, if the Suns model after them and build upon their talented star, they too will enjoy the fruits of success. Until then, Devin Booker must help his teammates habitualize a winning mentality.

 

 

Full Interview of Part 1 can be seen here:

 

Joshua Vinson
Joshua Vinson

This season is my 5th year covering the NBA. I specialize in feature stories and exclusives are what I do best. During the NFL season, I’m now covering the Carolina Panthers. This is my second year covering the NFL. Feel free to connect with me. I live by the following quote:

“A journalist who doesn’t value deeply an audience’s loyalty should be in another line of work.” — Peter Jennings

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