Rookie Trevor Booker is making a name for himself with Washington Wizards

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2010; D05

LAS VEGAS -- The Washington Wizards almost immediately dubbed top overall draft pick John Wall the "Game Changer," a moniker that hangs from Verizon Center's facade on Sixth Street NW and is plastered on the team's promotional materials.

Wall, though, isn't the only Wizards rookie taken in the first round with a catchy nickname. And while the name scouts have quietly given Trevor Booker -- "Grown-Ass Man" -- won't likely make its way onto official posters, it's just as descriptive as Wall's.

The left-handed Booker, who stands a chiseled 6 feet 7 and 240 pounds, looks like an adult. He isn't growing into his body -- that already happened at Clemson, where Booker added 25 pounds over four seasons. He has a college degree, and is the first Wizards first-round pick to have spent four years in college since Juan Dixon in 2002.

More importantly, while the team's recent top draft picks have occasionally been cited for inconsistency and an unwillingness to do the dirty work, Booker can't stop talking about those very things.

"They just want me to be tough, aggressive, bring a lot of energy and bring some character to the team," Booker said Thursday afternoon, before the Wizards played their third NBA Summer League game. "Players are brought into the league for different things, and I know my role, so that's what I'm gonna do."

Booker was mostly silent Thursday night, but led by Wall, the Wizards defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 88-82, to run their summer record to 3-0.

Washington scored the game's first 17 points and never trailed, with Wall finishing with 21 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds. It was the rookie's second double-double of the week, though he made just 4 of 19 shots. Cartier Martin led the Wizards with 23 points, and JaVale McGee added 18 on 9-of-10 shooting.

The summer league is rarely a perfect laboratory to measure NBA skills, and Booker certainly hasn't stolen Wall's headlines. He averaged 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in his first two games, making all eight of his field goal attempts, including a pair of flashy dunks. But during a scrimmage with Portland on Wednesday, Booker got teammates out of their seats not by scoring, but with a couple of gritty plays, tearing down a rebound with one arm and swatting a layup attempt out of bounds.

"He's a guy who can give us a lot of energy, and that's what we need," said Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell, who is coaching the summer league team. "We didn't have a lot of energy on our bench last year, but this year we've got a couple guys who can bring that energy for us."

Virtually every member of the front office has said something along those lines after the team traded two picks to Minnesota for Booker, who was selected with the 23rd pick. Coach Flip Saunders has talked about changing the culture on a team that was occasionally "pushed around" last season, and President Ernie Grunfeld told season ticket holders the team added "some more physicality" with Booker, Kirk Hinrich and others.

It isn't as if Booker is unskilled, of course. Over the course of a school-record 134 straight starts at Clemson, he became one of just eight ACC players to rank in his school's top five in both scoring and rebounds. He also joined Tim Duncan as the only ACC players with 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 blocks and 200 assists.

"He can pop and shoot, and he's athletic, so when he gets around the basket he can finish," Wall said.

That athleticism led to an eye-rubbing performance at the pre-draft combine in Chicago. Booker spent several months working two or three times a week with Lilian Abdelmalek of DSA Training in Atlanta. She tutored him on both his running form and his explosiveness -- having him run while dragging two 45-pound plates on a sled behind him, for example -- and he impressed the trainer with his dedication.

"When I said go, he went," Abdelmalek said. "He wouldn't sit around. He'd get there, and we'd constantly work."

When he arrived in Chicago, Booker excelled. His 3.10-second three-quarters-court dash was tops in the combine, just ahead of Wall's 3.14. He bench-pressed 185 pounds 22 times, behind only Luke Harangody's 23 reps. His vertical leap was 36 inches, tied for ninth of about 40 prospects (Wall was second), and his performance in the agility drill also tied for ninth (Wall was first). The San Antonio Spurs told Booker that in their overall athletic calculation coming out of the combine, he ranked first. It's an usual blend of speed and strength for a 6-7 forward.

"No doubt about it," Cassell said. "In college he was just more athletic than everyone, and 90 percent of the time he's faster than everybody on the team as a power forward. But right now he's learning."

Booker's father had always played football, but Trevor never wanted to follow suit, joking that he would have gotten heat stroke. (He did play baseball until he was 14, finding success as a left-handed power pitcher until encountering shoulder pain.) But he said administering contact is "part of my game," and said that may have contributed to his newest nickname.

"I guess [it's] because I'm just so tough out there on the court," he said. "Since I came to college, everybody's been telling me I'm so tough and aggressive."

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