Devin Booker To Take Scoring Touch To Tokyo For Team USA
by Todd Kortemeier
Devin Booker dribbles against the Denver Nuggets on June 13, 2021 in Denver, Colo.
Depending on how his Phoenix Suns fare in the NBA Finals, Devin Booker may have just a couple days to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The series could conclude as late as July 22 with the Olympic tournament beginning an ocean away just three days later. But that’s a good problem for Booker to have. And he wouldn’t miss his first Olympic Games no matter what.
“Booker called me maybe a month ago to express his great desire to be a part of the Olympics and I knew that just because of the relationship,” said Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s men’s national team managing director, in a June 28 videoconference with media. “I didn't have to say a word. He said, ‘If we get to the finals and we go all the way, I'll be on the plane the next day and I'll be there. It doesn't matter.’”
The Suns’ do-it-all shooting guard is expected to do much of what’s he’s done in the NBA for Team USA in Tokyo. A 2020 NBA All-Star and 2018 Three-Point Contest champion, Booker joins a star-studded U.S. roster that includes former NBA MVP Kevin Durant and some of the league’s top scorers in All-Stars Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal. Booker will fit in right alongside as he has developed a reputation as one of the league’s most exciting scorers.
In March 2017 Booker scored 70 points against the Boston Celtics, becoming the youngest player to score 60 points in an NBA game at the age of 20. Almost exactly two years later, Booker scored 59 points in a game against the Utah Jazz. Now 24, Booker is the fourth-youngest player to reach the 7,000 career points mark, doing so on Jan. 28, 2020.
Booker’s scoring ability has placed him among some elite company. He is the only active player to score 70 points in a game. And he is one of just six players in NBA history to have multiple games of 59 points or more, joining Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, James Harden and Michael Jordan. Harden is an active MVP and the others are all in the Hall of Fame.
The basketball hero in the Booker house growing up was Devin’s father Melvin, who ended up in the University of Missouri Hall of Fame for his achievements with the Tigers. The 1994 Big Eight Player of the Year went on to a pro career that included brief NBA stints with three teams from 1995 to 1997. In the midst of that he played in the Continental Basketball Association with the Grand Rapids Hoops in Michigan, which was where Devin was born.
Booker was raised mostly by his mother Victoria while his dad played pro basketball. He grew up near Grand Rapids while spending summers in his father’s hometown of Moss Point, Mississippi. Booker spent most of his high school career in Moss Point, where he developed that fierce scoring touch. As a senior, he averaged more than 30 points per game and became Moss Point High School’s all-time scoring leader in his three seasons.
Next it was off to the University of Kentucky. Playing mostly off the bench on a loaded team of future NBA All-Stars, Booker averaged 10 points per game and was SEC Sixth Man of the Year for 2015. The Suns chose Booker 13th overall in that year’s draft.
Booker earned his Olympic chance through his fast ascent to the top of the NBA. Booker’s international experience is a bit more limited; not only will he be making his Olympic debut but he’s yet to play in an international competition. Booker was a member of the USA Select Team in 2016 that helped the U.S. Olympic Team prepare for the Rio Games, and has been a member of the national team player pool since 2018. Booker was named a finalist for the Olympic team back in February 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the Tokyo Games. Now he’ll be getting that chance.
“Booker has developed into a real star in my opinion and it's an incredible story when you think that he never started in college and he's become the player that he has,” said Colangelo. “There's so many parts of his game now he can contribute. I'm very excited and happy for him to get the opportunity.”