How Devin Booker took Tyler Herro under his wing and forged a close relationship
As part of our ‘Basketball Bonds’ series, we explore the relationship between the two former Kentucky guards
Khari Arnold, NBA.com
The comparisons between Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker and Miami Heat rookie Tyler Herro have been prevalent since the latter was in high school. It picked up steam when Herro chose to play college basketball at Booker’s alma mater, the University of Kentucky. And there wasn’t a mock draft that didn’t list Booker as Herro’s “NBA player resemblance” when the Wisconsin native decided to go pro.
As unfair as it might be — Booker’s a proven NBA talent, currently averaging 26.1 ppg in his fifth season — it’s a parallel Herro truly welcomes. After all, Booker is the 19-year-old’s favorite player, and he’s admittedly modeled his game after him. He’ll play against his role model for the first time tonight when the Miami Heat take on the Phoenix Suns (9 ET, League Pass).
“I’m definitely excited,” Herro told NBA.com. “He was my favorite growing up, looking up to him. Playing him for the first time will be crazy, but I’m definitely excited.”
Booker turned 23 last week, so the reality that any NBA player looks up to him seems quite a bit mystifying. But when you consider the similarities in frame, style of play, temperament, and the several other random commonalities, it’s understood why a teenager who desires a similar ascension to Booker would study his game.
“It’s very wild,” Herro said regarding the identical nature between the two shooting guards. “He tells me to just keep killing. Keep trying to score. He said I can be one of the best scorers in the league if I just continue to improve.”
Some of those random commonalities include Booker and Herro both growing up in the Midwest, being selected No. 13 overall in the Draft, leading all votes as the best shooter in their respective class, checking in at the same height and playing one of the most valuable positions in today’s league.
And then once he decided to come to Kentucky, it was, ‘I’m a dog. I’m like Devin Booker.’ “
Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne, on Tyler Herro
When Booker was at Kentucky, Herro was a thin, 14-year-old high school freshman who was taking no prisoners on the hardwood in Wisconsin. He dominated the state basketball circuit, averaging 32.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game in his senior campaign. By that time, Booker was establishing himself in the NBA and, unbeknownst to him, as someone Herro wanted to emulate.
When Herro was being recruited by Kentucky in 2017, he would ask the coaches about Booker. Associate head coach Kenny Payne, who coached both Booker and Herro in college, can recall the moment vividly.
“One day during the recruiting process, Tyler said to me that he tried to hit Devin on Instagram or something, but he didn’t think he had responded,” Payne told NBA.com. “And from time to time, he would ask me about Devin’s past, and you could see he paid real close attention to what I was saying on what made Devin unique.
“And then once he decided to come to Kentucky, it was, ‘I’m a dog. I’m like Devin Booker.’”
In perhaps another opportunity to make his game akin to the Suns star, Herro worked out with Booker’s primary offseason trainer, Robbie Haught, before his lone season at Kentucky. Twice a day for four days straight, Haught put Herro through the same scrupulous drills that he’d do with Booker.
The resemblances stood out.
“Tyler’s a killer,” Haught told NBA.com. “They both have that same mentality, they don’t care who’s in front of them. They’re gonna get it done. I knew he was a pro when we worked out. They both take their craft as seriously as you possibly could. They both have that swag on the court. They both talk sh–. You can see why they compare them, whether it’s a fair comparison for Tyler or not. There are similarities.”
Once Herro got to Lexington, Booker began to follow his game intently. Herro displayed a sterling shot-making ability and a supreme level of confidence that anybody watching him would notice. That included Booker, who did the reaching out this time.
“I think it was on Twitter,” Herro said. “After a Kentucky game, he hit me up, said good game. And then I just got his number through there and we started talking.”
Suddenly, a bond clicked between the two. Booker talks with Herro after Heat games, shares with him the type of shots he wants him to shoot and where he needs to be.
It’s a sensei-to-grasshopper bond, except this sensei happens to be just four years older.
“He’s like a big brother to me now,” Herro said about Booker, who’s providing the Heat guard the type of guidance any first-year player would covet.
“He calls me all the time to tell me what I’m doing [on the court]. Stuff like that. He’s pretty much just a big brother to me. So our relationship is pretty close.”
In order for Herro to make the strides that his mentor has made, his work ethic must be inexorable. Booker established himself in this league a long time ago, and he’s kicked things into overdrive to start this season. He’s a bucket-getter who does it balletically on all three levels. He’s currently terrorizing opposing defenses with his efficient scoring and improved playmaking. And while an upgraded Suns roster and coaching staff deserves credit for his recent play, it’s the work Booker puts in that is fueling his separation.
That and his willpower.
He calls me all the time to tell me what I’m doing. He’s pretty much just a big brother to me.”
Tyler Herro, on Devin Booker
Three summers ago, when Booker was 20 and fresh off his sophomore NBA season, he went back to visit Kentucky. He walked in Payne’s office, looked him in the eyes and began to confidently spew affirmations — some of which hadn’t come true at the time.
“He told me, ‘It’s already happened. I’m a max player. I’m an All-Star. I’m the best player on my team. I’ve proved who I am,’” Payne says, recalling what Booker asserted on just the second-year of his rookie deal, a story that Herro has heard and admired. “Then he says, ‘So I need you to come on down to the floor and let’s do this hour workout.’”
The next summer Booker headed to China with Haught. After the 15-hour flight, with jet lag and fatigue naturally settling in, Booker immediately hit the gym, continuing to demonstrate how invested he is in his growth and the perfection of his art.
If Herro aspires to be like Booker, he’ll need to model that same drive and will. And from the looks of it early on, the protégé is committed to doing so. Since he’s been in Miami, he’s been the last player to leave the practice court at times, which, with Jimmy Butler on the roster, isn’t easy. And his workout with Haught last year left the professional skill development trainer with the exact same vibe.
“I would bet anything in the world that he keeps getting better just because of his work ethic,” Haught said. “The sky’s the limit for him, especially at his position in the league right now. He wants to get to the level Book’s at, and I think that’s why they’ve built a really close relationship.”
Herro has all the tools, but it would obviously take time to reach the elite status Booker appears to be approaching. He started the first three games of the season, but came off the Heat bench once Butler returned to the lineup. All Herro did was respond by scoring a game-high 29 points, the most by a rookie reserve in franchise history. He’s moving at a smooth pace and is operating under a solid development program in Miami — a luxury Booker didn’t have in his rookie season.
Meanwhile, Herro credits Kentucky as the foundation for his relationship with Booker. If he would have chosen another school — say Wisconsin, the hometown university he de-committed from before choosing UK — the bond he has with his favorite player growing up may not have ever manifested.
“All the Kentucky guys are all close,” Herro said. “We all wish the best for each other. Kentucky’s a brotherhood.”
But make no mistake — when the game tips off on Thursday night in Phoenix, don’t expect Booker to have brotherhood love on his mind.
Herro called Payne on Wednesday morning and told him he can’t wait to play against Booker, in which Payne responded by asking, “Did you tell Booker that himself?”
Payne states that Herro responded by saying, “Yeah, he told me two weeks ago he’s gonna bust my ass, and that even though I love you and you’re my brother, I’m still busting your ass.”
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