HSOT Takeout: Devin Booker

RALEIGH, N.C. — Heading into last spring, expectations ran high that Booker would establish himself as a nationally elite prospect. He didn't quite hit the mark on the Nike trail as a top-10 talent, but since that time he obviously has become more seasoned.

Any athlete would be happy to understand his or her own strengths and weakness as well as Devin Booker. The Kentucky signee took a slight tumble in Scout.com fall rankings, currently slotting at No. 33 in the Class of 2014.

And while that confers onto him very lofty status relative to his peers, this is a player who broke through with force in 2012 and whose father, Melvin, starred at Missouri in the 1990s. For guys like that, expectations don't run normal.

When Booker stumbled on the EYBL circuit, his relatively pedestrian athleticism stood out as the primary factor why. He doesn't blow by defenders and doesn't explode to the rim, qualities that many elite wings possess. He also shot reasonably well but not to the level of a pure shooter, causing scouts to affix him with the "good all-around player" tag.

So when Booker strolled into Broughton High for the High School OT Invitational, I expected more of the same. And for the first half of Moss Point's game versus Apex, that's what he delivered.

But Booker not only flipped the ignition switch in the second half, he did so in an evolved fashion. He went to the free throw line — a lot. For the game Booker shot 17-17 from the foul line, remarkable both for attempts and accuracy.

He didn't suddenly become more athletic. Booker clearly understands that he can't afford to be a mere catch-and-shoot player, and thus he obviously has worked to utilize high screens more effectively to set up drives, as well as move without the ball cleverly in traffic to get deeper initial touches. The result is that he has become far more difficult to defend, and that bit of progress certainly should translate to the collegiate level.

To dismiss any notion of a fluke, he returned to action this morning versus Clayton (N.C.) High and shot 24 more free throws. This time, he actually missed two, bringing his numbers down to 39-41 (95 percent) for the past two days.

With a touch like that, and despite a poor shooting day from the floor (7-23 for a total of 38 points), he's also likely to develop into a ballhandling weapon — always a strength of his — when the Wildcats are nursing a late lead and drawing fouls.

Booker's showing here bodes very well for his future in Lexington.

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