BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – If you’ve got the talent and you want to make it to the NBA, then Coach John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats can make your dream come true. The program set a modern-NBA draft record by having six players drafted in 2012. They just might break that record by having seven taken in the 2015 NBA Draft.
The Phoenix Suns already saw one of the seven Wildcats – Aaron Harrison – last week, as they had him in for workouts. Guard Devin Booker – who declared after his freshman year – was in town on Monday, and had a chance to workout for the team.
Phoenix already has a bevy of Wildcats – Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin, Brandon Knight – on their roster, which made Booker feel right at home, taking a bit of pressure off him with all eyes pointed in his direction all morning long.
“I talked to him (Bledsoe) a little bit, and he said, ‘we could use another Kentucky guy; a knockdown, shoot around (guy) here,’” Booker said. “You got Archie (Goodwin). You know the whole backcourt’s Kentucky, with Brandon Knight also. I like the situation here also.”
The Suns are kind of lucky, because they were the first team to bring Booker in for a workout during his “world tour,” as he likes to describe it. He’s headed to Oklahoma City, Okla., today to workout for the Thunder, and then he’s headed to Denver, Colo., to meet with the Nuggets and workout with them. It’s a crazy process, but he’s loving it.
“I’m getting used to it, (I’m) enjoying the process and I know it’s all going to pay off in the end,” Booker said.
The Wildcats were, without a doubt, THE most heavily scrutinized team in college basketball last season. They already had the Wildcat mystique floating all around them all year long; then you tack on them trying to do what no team has been able to do since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers: win a national championship while going undefeated. It made for such a wild season, which it was, with them falling to Wisconsin in the National Semifinal on April 4, in Indianapolis, Ind.
Even though they fell short of the ultimate prize, Booker gained some valuable experience as far as being able to handle the spotlight, and all the media attention that came their way on what had to seem like a 24/7 basis.
“I’m kind of comfortable; I credit being at the University of Kentucky for that, the biggest stage in college basketball,” Booker said. “I’m used to being under pressure. That’s one of the reasons I went to Kentucky. At the end of the day, it’s been my dream my whole life. You get excited, nervous, scared (and) everything, but at the end of the day, it’s what I wanted.”
Suns’ head coach Jeff Hornacek spent some one-on-one time with Booker during the workout, giving him some tips and pointers on improving his shot and getting it more refined for the next level. Booker says he was all ears when Hornacek spoke.
“I’m open to any information that can help me,” Booker said. “Everyone, they’re at this level that I’m trying to get to, so I take it in and just listen to everything that’s said to me.”
Booker was asked afterwards if anything stood out to him in particular about the workout. The biggest thing he took away from it was how competitive it was, and how hard he was pushed both mentally and physically.
“That’s what I wanted. I knew the workouts were going to be competitive, and that’s why I wanted to do a lot of workouts,” Booker said. “It’s an opportunity I always wanted, (to) play against other great college players. We’re all trying to fight for that next level, so we’re all competing.”
Booker did it all in his lone season at Kentucky. He was named SEC Sixth Man of the Year, he made the All-SEC Second Team, as well as the All-SEC Freshman Team. On top of all that, he was named SEC Freshman of the Week five times. In other words, Booker made it happen in Lexington, Ky.
As young as Booker is – coming out after just one season at Kentucky – there’s a lot about his game that he can improve on in order to make it stand out in the NBA.
“I feel like there’s a lot of things that can come out,” Booker said. “I always feel like I need to work on things. It’s so much talent around us at Kentucky, I feel like that’d be the closest thing to an NBA team as possible. I know the NBA’s doing a lot of pick-and-roll and off the dribble, and I feel like I can do that also.”
“People get caught up in trying to do things they don’t do; I’m not one of those types. I keep it simple and take what the defense gives me,” Booker said.
Booker looks up to shooters like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick. He feels like with the explosion of those four riflemen, and other great outside shooters throughout the league, it’s a perfect time for him to get picked up by a team, and hopefully get to their level and beyond one day.
“I feel like every team needs shooters, and Golden State (Warriors) is showing that right now,” Booker said. “I’m a shooter, so we’ll see where I end up.”