Despite experience in long-range showdowns, Phoenix's 19-year-old rookie knows to expect the unexpected
POSTED: Feb 11, 2016 11:24 PM ET
At 19, Devin Booker will be the youngest player to ever compete in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.
In August of 2013, at the Under Armour Elite 24 Showcase in Brooklyn, NY, a high school kid out of Mississippi named Devin Booker had something to prove.
Heading into his senior season at Moss Point High School, the 6-foot-6 Booker had established himself as one of the best shooters in his high school class. But this was on a national scale, in an event that has produced NBA players like Kevin Love, John Wall and Kyrie Irving.
Booker entered into the three-point contest, and he wanted to give himself every advantage possible. So before even getting to New York, Booker got an Under Armour ball, assuming it would be similar to the ball used in the contest.
"I went online with my Dad and we ordered it," Booker recalls. "I just wanted to practice with their ball before the contest. We didn't have ball racks to practice with, but I wanted to get used to shooting with a ball like we would use in the contest."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Booker went on to win that three-point contest. Now, a little less than three years later, after a brief detour through Lexington, Kentucky, Booker is in his rookie NBA season. And although he's found himself with a Phoenix Suns franchise that is in flux, Booker has been a bright spot. There's been a coaching change, and season-ending injuries to Eric Bledsoe and T.J. Warren. Thrust into the lineup, through 47 games, including 22 appearances in the starting lineup, the 19-year-old Booker is averaging 10.6 points per game, while shooting 41 percent on 3-pointers.
3-Point Threats: Devin Booker
Check out rookie Devin Booker getting acclimated to the NBA 3-point line this season!
"It's unfortunate that Eric went down, as well as all the other injuries we've had," says Booker. "There's just been a lot going on over here. But we're figuring it out. I've just tried to look at it as an opportunity."
Booker says that being able to shoot the ball has somewhat eased his transition to the NBA: "It's an elite skill that translates right away. If you can shoot in college, you can make shots in the NBA. That has made it all a little bit easier.
"It's harder on the defensive end -- like, knowing the tendencies of players you have to defend. But that will come with time, and looking at the film until you learn those tendencies."
But a three-point contest is an animal unto itself: while Booker won the Elite 24 contest, he lost a few months later in the three-point contest at the McDonald's All-American Game. According to Booker, competing in a three-point shootout is completely different than shooting in an NBA game.
"Shooting off the rack, that's the number one key," Booker explains. "That's a whole different skill. You can be an elite shooter but that might not translate into a contest. In a game you might have to catch-and-shoot, or shoot off the dribble, but shooting off a rack is whole different thing."
Booker will be the youngest player to ever compete in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, and he's going against a lineup of heavy hitters. Stephen Curry returns to defend his 2015 title, and will be joined by his sweet-shooting Golden State teammate Klay Thompson. Other contestants include Clippers guard J.J. Redick, who leads the NBA in 3-point percentage at 47.8, as well as the NBA's third-leading scorer, James Harden.
While Booker enters the contest with confidence, he also knows that being the best shooter doesn't always guarantee a win: "Steph won last year, but just being an elite shooter doesn't guarantee that you'll win it."
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