Booker Made Family Sports His 'Own Passion'
Melvin Booker’s memories of a young Devin Booker are like a movie in fast forward. It seemed to take no time at all for his son to get older before his eyes.
That’s because his eyes only saw Devin a couple months a year.
Melvin was a professional basketball player long before Devin, the Suns’ first-round selection from last week’s draft, ever dreamed of becoming one. The former University of Missouri standout played a handful of stints in the NBA, but settled on plying his trade overseas shortly after Devin entered his life.
The elder Booker’s playing days – spent mostly in Italy and Russia – cut short the consistent, year-round interaction most parents experience with their children.
“Every time, it was like a different kid,” Melvin said. “I’d be gone so long, he’d change so much as a kid. I’d come back and we’d spend our summers together. When he came with me during the offseason, we’d spend every minute of every hour together.”
Even under those circumstances, it was impossible for Devin to not pick up the same ball that earned his father’s keep. It didn’t hurt that he was tall for his age, even in elementary school.
Melvin, however, wanted to ensure his son’s physical and emotional commitments to the game were one and the same.
Leander and Booker, Part 1
“Is this something you really want to do, or is this something you’re doing only because I’m doing it?” he asked his son.
“Dad, I just love basketball,” Devin replied. “I want to be a great player.”
Melvin knew he could be. He lists his son’s “competitive side” and basketball IQ among the earliest signs of his potential.
“I haven’t even gotten to the shooting ability, yet,” Melvin laughed.
The shooting wouldn’t come until later. Again, Devin was tall, so coaches were only too willing to utilize his height as a post player. He also preferred to challenge defenders by driving to the basket.
That’s how his brother, Davon, remembers him.
“[Devin] was just so big and nobody could really guard him,” he said. “He’d attack the rack.”
The siblings played together often despite a three-grade gap in age because of Devin’s size. The local YMCA and AAU basketball became their childhood. For Davon, the moment he realized Devin was “special” occurred before the latter entered high school.
“He had this tip-slam in eighth grade over a couple guys in an AAU tournament,” Davon recalled. “I was just like, ‘Wow, he’s really good.’”
The skills, father and brother both attest, are a product of desire. After growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., the family moved to Mississippi. Davon remembers the dire predictions Devin received from those who felt certain the young talent would experience a wake-up call.
“When he moved down south, people were telling him that he was going to get eaten alive because he was up playing with the suburban kids in our neighborhood,” Davon said. “Then he went down there and played in the inner city schools and they’re like, ‘We’re going to press him and he won’t be able to do anything.’ He ends up being a McDonalds All-American.”
Booker’s star has skyrocketed since, earning SEC Sixth Man of the Year and a Final Four appearance at Kentucky along the way. Those accomplishments came in a set role with the Wildcats, which in turn fed critics who considered him an unathletic shooter.
A couple months later at the Chicago Combine, Booker turned in the fastest lane agility drill out of all the NBA Draft prospects.
He’s one of the most confident people I know,” Davon laughed. “He knows he’s good and he likes to prove people wrong.”
Melvin is eager to see his son continue to do so. For him, the weeks leading up to the draft were filled with a feeling of hopelessness. After seeing his son take control of his life and dreams as a young boy, he had to sit, watch and wait with him.
“They told me not to do it, but I was checking every mock draft out there trying to figure out where he may end up,” he said.
His subsequent relief at seeing his son drafted comes with a tinge of irony. Before playing in Europe, one of Melvin’s last NBA games came against the Suns in 1997. For a few minutes, he found himself matched up against Steve Nash, a rookie taken 13th overall in the previous summer’s draft. Now his son, also selected 13th overall, is playing for that same team.
Four days after that long-ago game, he also played against and guarded his son’s future coach, Jeff Hornacek.
“I’m glad he landed in a nice situation, a nice city, a nice organization,” Melvin said. “He’s being coached by one of the greatest shooters to ever play the game. I’m really excited to see how this all works out.”