Suns draft pick Devin Booker groomed to play professionally
PHOENIX — Devin Armani Booker wasn’t given his middle name because his father, Melvin, played for Italian basketball team Armani Jeans Milano. It’s only coincidence, yet the name fits like a well-tailored suit.
The 18-year-old likes his style and knows it helps portray him as a professional and as a basketball player — one who after being selected 13th overall by the Phoenix Suns during Thursday’s NBA Draft can easily afford a fine suit.
Booker’s professionalism, work ethic and maturity may well have helped his path to professionalism come quicker than expected.
Melvin Booker didn’t force basketball on his son. His European basketball career meant he was away from Devin most of the year, but Devin’s motivation to improve his game only grew during summer visits with his father.
"My mom never let me go to Russia when he was over there," Booker said Friday when he was introduced in Phoenix. "She ended up finally letting me go later in his career, when he was playing in Italy — actually for Armani Jeans. I got to meet Giorgio Armani.
"My dad was actually playing with (Nuggets forward) Danilo Gallinari. I think I was 12 at the time. Danilo, we played one-on-one, and it just gave me that drive to know that your dad is a professional basketball player. It makes you want to work that much harder."
Melvin will take credit for a piece of his son’s development as a basketball player but he insists Devin, who grew up with his mother in Grand Rapids, Mich., built the foundation.
"He was always in the gym with me. He always was with me in gyms preparing me for upcoming seasons," Melvin said, then added: "He developed his own passion for the game."
Melvin brought Devin to Moss Point, Miss., during high school, and for three years helped Devin develop into a 4-star prospect. Melvin said they "went full-out for just three years, training, bonding as father and son to make it to this point right here."
It was more than just basketball.
"I didn’t know how to hold my fork right," Devin added. "I used to eat like a caveman. "
It’s not incredibly uncommon for a 4-star prospect to play a one-and-done college season, but the baby-faced shooter committed to a loaded Kentucky squad. That didn’t guarantee his draft stock would soar, not with John Calipari implementing his platoon substitution patterns that gave 10 capable players minutes.
Booker earned 21 minutes a game and shot off the charts without forcing looks in those minutes. Maybe a bit of smooth talking helped him impress.
"He grew even more as a person at Kentucky, because at the situation at Kentucky, you have to grow up real quick," Melvin said. "You have to carry yourself in a more mature way. You got to be able to go on the road in these hostile environments because it’s everybody’s Super Bowl."
Despite limited time in Calipari’s platoon system, the 6-foot-6, 206-pound guard produced.
He shot 41 percent from 3-point range, but the one-trick pony label appears far from accurate. Despite several high-flying bigs like Willie Cauley-Stein and first overall pick Karl Towns getting all their looks in the paint, Booker came off the bench and was the third-most efficient shooter — a 57 percent effective field goal percentage that give extra weight for threes. He shot an excellent 73 percent at the rim, which should have partially laid to rest concerns about his athleticism.
Devin Booker will help spread the floor nicely for Phoenix. Loves the left corner. Opportunistic at the rim. pic.twitter.com/d5e8cfHbXe
— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) June 26, 2015
Then there’s that shooting touch.
"It’s a heck of a stroke," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "He gets it and he gets it up, it’s right above his head there, where it should be. It’s great when you get a guy who can shoot the ball. Then you can teach him the other things."
Booker moves without the ball like former Piston Rip Hamilton, his idol growing up in Michigan. The comparisons to Klay Thompson seem fair in how they play, though Booker knows the Golden State Warrior guard is far closer to a finished product.
For the Suns’ purposes, the 18-year-old brings a maturity to a young team that might count its newest member among its least quiet. Not that Booker is exceptionally loud. He’s just open — professional.
For those traits, he gave credit to his mom and dad, who were with him during his Suns introduction.
Welcome to the valley @DevinBook … Got your backpack ready!
— Eric Bledsoe (@EBled2) June 26, 2015
"I just can’t wait to make a brotherhood with these other teammates, which are a lot older than me," Booker said. "Eric (Bledsoe) tweeted me last night, talked about he had a backpack ready for me. I guess I got to get ready for my rookie duties."