Rookie Trevor Booker's tenacity helps to overcome his lack of height
Monday, October 18, 2010; 10:44 PM
TOLEDO - When Trevor Booker's final growth spurt pushed his height to 6 feet 7 in high school, he wanted more. He told his mother, Tracey, he needed to grow at least two more inches to have a better shot at fulfilling his childhood dream of making it to the NBA and succeeding at his preferred position, power forward.
"I was like, 'You barely fit through the doorway, what are you talking about?' " Tracey Booker said with a laugh in a recent telephone interview. She didn't understand what her oldest son meant until he made it to Clemson and had to tussle with taller players on a regular basis.
But Booker didn't allow being undersized to keep him from being productive, as he became the only ACC player not named Tim Duncan to record 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 blocks and 200 assists over his collegiate career. He also was the first player since Duncan to lead the ACC in rebounding and field goal percentage.
His tenacity and scrappiness pushed the Washington Wizards to move up seven spots and take him 23rd overall in June's NBA draft, even when some draft boards had him rated as an early second-round pick.
Booker has compared himself to such short but effective big men as Utah's Paul Millsap and Sacramento's Carl Landry, who compensate for lack of height with hustle. "It's advantages and disadvantages," Booker said. "I mean yeah, I might be undersized, but I'm quicker, faster and I'm strong. I bring other things to the table - a lot of energy, rebounding, bringing a lot of toughness. That was the main reason they brought me here."
Booker already sports a busted lip after taking an elbow in a preseason game against Milwaukee. And the 240-pounder certainly isn't lacking for a physical presence, as he simply flexed his muscles to reveal why veterans hadn't hazed him during training camp.
In the fourth quarter of the Wizards' loss in New York on Sunday, Knicks guard Andy Rautins was trying to defend No. 1 pick John Wall when he backed into a screen from Booker. Bugs have had better luck with a windshield, as Wall was sprung free and Rautins splattered to the ground.
Rautins shouldn't take it personally, though, since Booker wears his motto tattooed across his chest. It reads, "I am free of all prejudice/I hate all opponents equally."
"It's just when I get on that court and I see another jersey, I don't take any prisoners," Booker said, explaining the meaning of his tattoo. "When I'm on the court and my opponent tries to come at me, I'm going to try to take their head off."
The Wizards will play their preseason finale against Detroit on Tuesday, with Coach Flip Saunders still trying to determine final roster spots and his rotation through the regular season. Saunders already plans to use Booker at both forward positions because he is strong enough to defend bigger players and has the speed to keep up with wing players (Booker recorded the fastest three-quarter court sprint time at the NBA combine, besting even Wall).
Booker helped Saunders figure out how to best use him when Booker instinctively started trapping players in the back court during summer league games. Since then, Saunders made the full-court press an essential component of his defense when Booker is on the floor. It actually helped Booker get his first field goal in the preseason, as the left-hander stole the ball, dribbled into the lane and spun around to make a short hook.
"He's going to be an energy guy for us," Saunders said. "He plays with great energy and gets after it and does all the little things, the dirty things. That's what he is right now. The rest of his game will develop in time, but right now he has to be a guy that I feel I can put in and he change the tempo of the game with his defense, either pressing up the floor and shadowing or be a lockdown, half-court defender type guy."
Booker hasn't shot well this preseason, with most of his points coming from putbacks and transition dunks. He is learning to adjust his game after having so much funneled through him in college, and is trying to figure out how to become a better team defender with Saunders's zone after focusing on individual defense in the past.
Booker also received some good advice from his cousin, Houston Rockets second-year forward Jordan Hill, who told him, "Be prepared for anything."
Booker is a no-nonsense guy who keeps his words to a minimum. After a steal and breakaway dunk against Atlanta last week, Booker was asked to explain what goes through his mind when he's all alone on the break. "It's the same thing I'm out there thinking the whole game - fly," he said.
Tracey Booker said she knows her son is not very talkative, but he has always expressed himself through hard work. "He's very passionate about whatever he loves, like basketball," she said. "I'm just so proud of him, because he was so determined to get to the NBA and that's always just what he wanted. People telling him he wouldn't make it to the league because of his size really inspired him to work harder to make it there."