To get an idea of just how valued Devin Booker is as a basketball player, all you need to do is to take a glimpse at some of the programs that have offered him a scholarship.
Duke. Florida. North Carolina. Michigan. Michigan State. Kentucky.
The names don’t get bigger than that.
Missouri has also offered Booker a scholarship, and while Frank Haith’s program may not be on the same level as the six listed above, the Tigers have an actual chance to land Booker. His father, Melvin, was a Big Eight Conference Player of the Year and a second-team all-american for the Tigers in the early ’90s.
The father-son duo also happens to be a perfect example of the differences in how the recruitment for star players happens.
Devin has been a known commodity for years in Mississippi. He averaged more than 30 points as a junior at Moss Point HS. He plays for the Alabama Challenge, a Nike-sponsored AAU team that plays in the EYBL, and he’s a consensus top 30 recruit in the Class of 2014. This July, he played at the LeBron camp in Las Vegas then went to North Augusta, SC, for the Peach Jam. After heading to Washington DC for the Nike Global Challenge, Booker closed out his month with a trip to Orlando for AAU Nationals.
With the number of AAU teams and tournaments across the country, if you’re a recruit with a chance at playing at the high-major level, odds are good that your summer looked similar.
For Melvin it was much different. Midway through his senior year, Tulane, South Alabama and Central Florida were really the only programs recruiting him despite the fact that he was Mississippi’s Player of the Year. From Steve Waletnik of the Columbia Tribune:
That was until former Missouri assistant coach Rich Daly contacted him in the middle of his senior year.
The story went that Daly noticed Booker, who ranks seventh on Missouri’s career scoring list, as a high school sophomore. Daly was in the stands to watch Booker’s senior teammate Litterial Green — who went on to become the leading scorer in Georgia basketball history — battle future LSU great Chris Jackson. He made a note to keep tabs on Booker’s progress but forgot to follow up until two years later, in the middle of the season, when Coach Norm Stewart was looking for a guard to round out his recruiting class.
Daly called Moss Point Coach Arthur Haynes and found out Booker was in the middle of a season in which he averaged 28.4 points.
Missouri was doing pretty well that season, too, rising to No. 1 in the polls. So Booker was immediately intrigued, but it wasn’t until he experienced the raucous atmosphere of the Hearnes Center during a showdown with Oklahoma that Booker’s mind was made up. He signed with the Tigers that April.
Criticizing AAU basketball is trendy. It’s easy to blame everything that’s wrong with the sport and all of the wasted talent on the grassroots culture, even if it’s inaccurate. And I’ll admit, there are parts of the events that I don’t like. The tournaments are run for profit, meaning that anyone with a large enough check can partake, even if their team has no business taking part. The events are located all over the country, and it costs a pretty penny to be able to get an entire team from the deep south to Milwaukee or Indianapolis or Las Vegas. The games are more competitive that people give them credit for, but with a different tournament every weekend and three games in a day, it’s tough to care too much about any given loss.
But what AAU has helped do is make the basketball world smaller. Players like Melvin Booker don’t slip through the cracks as often anymore, and while the downside of that is these kids are now being recruited when they are as young as 14 and 15 years old, the bottom-line is that AAU has helped create opportunities.
Devin Booker plays for Moss Point HS (MS).
Would he have three bluebloods and three hall of fame coaches knocking down his door if it wasn’t for the exposure he’s gotten throughout his high school career?