Coast Connections: Devin Booker

Coast Connections: Devin Booker
Suns guard Devin Booker warms up before a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center (WLOX)
Suns guard Devin Booker warms up before a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center (WLOX)
WLOX Sports: Coast Connections
WLOX Sports: Coast Connections

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WLOX) - Whenever the Phoenix Suns visit the New Orleans Pelicans, there's always a bit of a South Mississippi flair to the Smoothie King Center.

"I always enjoy playing in New Orleans," Suns guard Devin Booker said. "It's right down the road, a lot of people make this trip."

Dozens make the short journey from Moss Point to see one of the city's favorite sons on one of basketball's biggest stages.

"I kind of knew Devin would come out and have a little extra in his game tonight," Melvin Booker, Devin's father, told WLOX at Phoenix's most recent visit to the Big Easy in February. "There's a lot of friends and family here to see him."

Those friends and family support Booker in the NBA just as passionately as they cheered him on at Moss Point High School.

For three seasons, the high-flying phenom took the Coast by storm, turning in jaw-dropping plays and impressive performances. However, his journey to the NBA nearly took a very different path.

"I had to do a little recruiting to get him to come (to Moss Point)," the elder Booker said with a smile.

"Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan - making that transition down here was a total culture shock for me at first," Devin Booker said.

Melvin Booker, a former Moss Point and NBA player himself, knew his son needed to train under his watchful eye so a young Devin could one day reach his full potential.

"It was tough for him to leave his family and friends in Michigan," Devin's dad said. "But he knew what the plan was to come down here and work and reach his dream."

"He was always setting the blueprint for success for me for basketball," Devin said. "He taught me the training side, the hard work, the competitive nature."

Clearly, the decision paid off. In three seasons with the Tigers, Booker finished his prep career as Moss Point's all-time leading scorer with 2,518 points. He topped it off with 2013 Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year honors, and a scholarship to the University of Kentucky.

"I love the city of Moss Point," Booker said. "They've been behind me 100 percent. Not only Moss Point, the whole (Mississippi) Gulf Coast has been behind me."

In the short time since his playing days on the Coast, Booker has wasted no time elevating himself into one of the NBA's brightest young stars. Last year, he scored 70 points in a single game, the youngest to do so in league history, and followed that up by winning the 2018 Three-Point Contest, setting an all-time record with 28 points in the Championship Round.

"I would just say having tunnel vision," Booker said when asked how his NBA career boasts so many achievements so quickly. "For me, I have a bunch of goals and accomplishments that I've always wanted to reach, and I feel like I've put the work in. NBA is something I've always wanted. You said Three-Point Contest, that's something I've always wanted. Every time I get the chance to perform in those moments, I just want to take full advantage of all of them."

So far, he is, and his NBA peers are quickly taking notice.

"Devin Booker is as good as any two-guard in this league," Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said after their most recent meeting, a 125-116 New Orleans victory in which Booker scored 40 points. "I mean, the guy's terrific."

"He's carrying that team, honestly," Pelicans all-star forward Anthony Davis added. "He had 40 tonight, the guy scored 70 before. I'm excited for him."

But for all the personal highlights, it has yet to translate to team success. With his third year in Phoenix now in the books, the Suns featured a different head coach every single time, never clinching more than 24 wins in a year in that span.

But the former Tiger refuses to stop pushing. As he does so, he'll have the entire Moss Point community behind him every step of the way.

"For me, my next step is turning the franchise into a winning franchise," Booker said. "That's what I want to be known as, that's why I play the game is to be a winner. Once you start winning, there's gonna be no coaches getting fired, no players getting traded, so that's the next step for me."

Injuries limited Booker to just 54 games this year, but when he did play, his trademark scoring touch never failed to shine through. The Moss Point product averaged an impressive 24.9 points per game, which would have qualified for the eighth-best scoring average in the league.

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