PHOENIX (AP) — Devin Booker was almost finished with his introductory news conference on Friday, patiently, confidently, concisely answering one question after another, a performance that belied his age.
At 18, the youngest player in his draft class, the Kentucky guard impressed the Phoenix Suns with a lot more than his sweet jump shot. And he won’t turn 19 until Oct. 30.
“You just listened to him for a half-hour answering your questions,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “You think he’s an 18-year-old kid? Besides the basketball, that’s the stuff that we saw as a young man that could be on our team and be a part of our organization. He’s got the maturity of somebody a lot older than that.”
The Suns chose Booker, the 6-foot-6 designated shooter off the bench for the national champion Wildcats, with the 13th pick overall. He fills an immediate need as a target for point guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight when they drive to the basket.
“It’s tough to put into words because I’ve wanted this dream my whole life,” he said. “I’ve worked so hard, ever since I’ve been 5 years old I’ve been playing basketball, so to be in this position I’m in now really shows hard work does pay off.”
With his parents, brother and sister watching, he talked about the support he had growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., with his mother Veronica while his father Melvin played professionally in Russia and Italy.
“Just seeing my mom come home and work hard for us every day, me and my brother and my sister, taught me that drive off the court,” Booker said, “just how hard she fought for us meant a lot for me. And it made me want to work that much harder to be in a situation like I am now to take care of her.”
His mom wouldn’t let him go to Russia with his father, she relented and allowed her son at age 12 to visit his father in Milan.
“It just gave me that drive to know that your dad is a professional basketball player and you see where the ball can take you,” the younger Booker said, “and it just makes you want to work that much harder.”
As a high school sophomore, Booker moved to Moss Point, Miss., to live with his father, who played 32 games in the NBA and was Big Eight player of the year at Missouri in 1994.
“It was a hard transition at first,” Devin Booker said. “I didn’t like the school and everything but ended up loving it. He just taught me how to be an overall man, on and off the court. I didn’t’ even know how to hold my fork right. I used to eat like a caveman.”
Melvin Booker said there was a double reason for his son moving in.
“Part of it was for me to train him because he said he wanted to be a really good player,” the father said. “Another part of it was I missed so much of his life because I was playing in Europe. We were bonding again as father and son.”
The road led from Mississippi to Lexington, where the younger Booker filled a role that maybe didn’t get all the headlines but was critical to the Wildcats’ soaring success.
But Booker was only able to show a limited amount of his abilities. The Suns saw how much more he could do at Kentucky practices and when Booker worked out for the team.
“When you watch the playoffs you see that a 3-point shooting trend around the league. That’s become an important part of the game,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. “I think there’s a lot more to Devin’s game than that.”
There are four guards from Kentucky on the roster — Bledsoe, Knight, Archie Goodwin and now Booker.
Bledsoe watched Booker work out for Phoenix and the youngster heard him say the Suns needed a shooter. Now Bledsoe has tweeted to the newcomer that his backpack was ready. Booker didn’t know what that meant but it had something to do with a veteran greeting a rookie.
The Booker family thought Devin would be at Kentucky a few years. Instead, he’s one of many Wildcat “one-and-dones.”
“It just happened so quick,” Melvin Booker said. “He has his family to support him along the way because, at the end of the day, he’s still an 18 year old.”