“We did little activities. Go-karts. Museums,” Booker said, when asked what he did for fun and excitement.
Booker might not live on the edge, but the small-town simplicity and consistency of the South Carolina native has endeared him to Washington Wizards teammates, coaches and fans, who know what to expect when he steps on the floor: He will battle for rebounds, extra possessions and loose balls, play grinding, physical defense and look to force turnovers. The 6-foot-7 forward out of Clemson rarely leaves the game feeling like he left something behind.
“His energy level is contagious,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “When you’re playing out there with him, you can look silly if you’re not the same level. Having guys like that is always good to have.”
Booker had a team-high 12 points and two rebounds in 16 minutes Wednesday night in the Wizards’ 104-101 loss to the Raptors at Air Canada Centre. He watched from the bench in the closing seconds as Bradley Beal had his potentially tying three-pointer blocked.
Booker was one of the bright spots during the Wizards’ disappointing 2011-12 season. He replaced Andray Blatche as the starter at power forward and averaged 10.6 points and 8.3 rebounds in the season’s final 29 games. He developed plantar fasciitis in his left foot during a late-season victory over Philadelphia and, for the second year in a row, was unable to play in April — meaning that he missed the stretch of games when the Wizards won six straight and eight of 10 overall.
“I had a pretty good year last year, besides getting hurt. My confidence was sky high before I got hurt,” Booker said. “This year, I’m looking to stay healthy and build off last year.”
But after an offseason in which he had two platelet-rich plasma treatments in his left foot in New York and did corrective work almost daily with the Wizards’ training staff, Booker was slowed down for much of the preseason with a strained left hamstring. He made his preseason debut in Toronto.
The Wizards have had trouble developing chemistry with their revamped front line, with Nene missing the entire camp because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot and Kevin Seraphin recently suffering a strained right calf. Emeka Okafor, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton are also in the mix up front.
Wittman is tinkering with lineups in the preseason to find a unit that works well together, but Booker doesn’t expect to have a problem fitting into the rotation when the games start to matter.
“I think my role will remain the same,” Booker said. “When I get back on the court, I just like to, I call it, ‘Go crazy.’ Rebound. Just hustle. Bring energy. It pumps the team up, gets the crowd into it. And I think we’re a better team like that.”
Booker got most of his points scoring near the basket, with dunks and rebound putbacks, but Wittman wants to see how Booker has improved his midrange jump shot to provide the Wizards with a dimension that they currently don’t have.
Last season, Booker made 69.2 percent (119 of 172) of his shots near the rim, but only 36.5 percent (61 of 167) from everywhere else.
“I worked on it most of the summer,” Booker said of his 15-foot jumper — he was 6 of 8 Tuesday night, his makes all coming near the rim and his miss coming on his only midrange attempt. “That’s pretty much the thing I focused on. I feel pretty comfortable taking it.”
Booker, John Wall and Seraphin have been with the team for the longest tenures, and Booker has grown considerably since the Wizards moved up to draft him 23rd overall in 2010. But the 24-year-old Booker is not ready to proclaim himself one of the older players — even though he’s older than eight of the players under contract.
“Some guys are way older — not way older, but they’re up there — so I’ll say, no,” Booker said with a laugh, while adding that he, Wall and Seraphin have been through a lot in their short time in Washington. “We’ve seen some things. We haven’t seen it all, but we’ve seen some things.”