Devin Booker has always been willing to do whatever it takes.
When he played for the University of Kentucky in 2014-2015, he never scored 20 points and was the third–leading scorer behind Aaron Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns.
It’s a shocking stat.
This, coming from the same guy who became the youngest player to score 70 points in 2017? This, coming from the same guy who has scored at least 20 points 13 times in the playoffs this season, including a 27-point performance in his first-ever NBA Finals appearance on Tuesday?
But for Booker, his production in college wasn’t an issue. It didn’t sow seeds of doubt in his mind. It didn’t make him want to jet to a different program.
Instead, it taught him the meaning of playing for something greater than himself.
“We all had to buy in,” Booker said. “We all had to sacrifice and just [understand] our role.”
It worked. That team finished with a 31-0 regular-season record and made a run to Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.
Booker chuckles looking back now, saying he only ran “like four” pick-and-rolls his entire college career, something that’s his bread and butter now. He’s similarly amused by the fact that Kentucky coach John Calipari “would lose his mind” whenever Towns shot 3-pointers at practice, even though the 6-foot-11 center has developed into a 39.4% career 3-point shooter in the NBA.
But it was all deeply worth it. Their stats weren’t as loud as they could’ve been, but they were successful. It’s a lesson he’s never forgotten.
When the Phoenix Suns selected Booker with the 13th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, he had the same approach.
Monty Williams took the head coaching job with the Suns in 2019 and he remembers being deeply impressed by Booker when they met for dinner at a restaurant in Scottsdale.
“He looked me right in the eyes and he said, ‘Coach, whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it,'” Williams recently recalled. “That was the beginning. So to see him in this position is gratifying.”
Booker yet again showed his selfless attitude after the Suns traded for Chris Paul in November. Immediately after the move, questions arose regarding whether there would be a chemistry clash. Would Paul and Booker be able to coexist? Or would they be fighting over whose team it was?
Those fears never materialized.
Paul and Booker quickly learned that they’re very similar. They’ve nearly gotten into fights when they’ve competed against each other at practices, but that’s never spilled over elsewhere.
They live down the street from one other and often go over to each other’s homes to watch games. Booker grew up admiring Paul and wanted to learn everything he could from the 36-year-old. He just didn’t want Paul scoring on him when they matched up, something Paul respected.
And come game time, they couldn’t have been more on the same page.
“There’s zero ego involved. I think that’s the most important part,” Booker recently said. “We both want to see each other succeed. We both want the team to succeed, we all want the team to succeed. So when you’re all on the same page that way, the relationships tend to happen.”
Paul has repeatedly commented on Booker’s maturity. Unlike most 20-year-olds, he gets it. He’s over himself. He’s willing to do what’s best for the team.
“He like an old man,” Paul recently said. “He’s the oldest 24-year-old I ever met in my life.”
Booker says he modeled his game after his idols. Growing up, his favorite players were Rip Hamilton, Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups, guys known for their grit and intensity.
“Rip Hamilton, Kobe Bryant and those guys have literally shaped and paved my whole entire life,” Booker said. “I don’t think without their mentality and their approach that I would be sitting in this chair right now.”
Booker has integrated many of their qualities into his own game. Above all, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. And just like his team at Kentucky, he said the Suns are all on the same page about that, too.
“There’s guys sacrificing,” he said. “That’s all of us.”
It’s a good combination.
In fact, it’s a winning one.