Booker works to be impact player

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The transfer from the University of Montana will have one season with the Redhawks.

To say Roy Booker enjoyed his season spent primarily as a practice player last year would be a stretch.

But Southeast Missouri State's senior guard said it also had its benefits.

"It was tough, especially if we were losing, because I knew I could be helping out the team," Booker said. "And being so impatient, I got real anxious.

"But I actually think it paid off, and it was better for me. I worked hard, got a lot better, got bigger and stronger, and I learned the system."

And now, less than a week into practice for the 2005-06 season, the University of Montana transfer can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel regarding the resumption of his college basketball career.

"I've been playing ball practically my whole life, and this is as excited as I've ever been," Booker said.

Under NCAA transfer rules, Booker could practice with the Redhawks last season, but he was not allowed to participate in games.

That, however, did not prevent the former Portageville High School star from displaying the kind of talent that has coach Gary Garner expecting big things during Booker's only official season with the Redhawks.

"You never like to put too much pressure on anybody, especially since he hasn't played in a game for us yet, but I really believe Roy has the ability to be one of the top players in the Ohio Valley Conference," Garner said. "He's a very talented offensive player who can really score, and he makes the players around him better. He's a strong guard who can get to the basket, and he can shoot the basketball.

"Roy worked really hard, not only with us practicing but on his own. We're really looking forward to having him this year."

Said the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Booker: "I'm a gym rat, coach knows that. All I do is stay in the gym, shooting every day, working on my game. I just love basketball that much."

After earning all-state honors at Portageville High School, Booker averaged more than 20 points per game in two seasons at Allen County (Kan.) Community College, where he was rated as the nation's top junior college shooting guard by The Sporting News.

Booker received some interest from a few Big 12 Conference schools before he signed with Montana after being recruited by Grizzlies assistant coach Ronnie Dean, a Southeast Missouri native.

"Coach Dean had been recruiting me since high school. That's the main reason I went there," Booker said.

Montana used Booker at point guard for much of the 2003-04 season, and he struggled some at the position while primarily coming off the bench.

But Booker started the final seven games at an off-guard spot and averaged 12.9 points along with five rebounds during that stretch, including a season-high 17 points in the Grizzlies' last game. He wound up as their third-leading scoring with a 9.3 average.

"They had me at the point. I can play some point, but that's not really my natural position," Booker said. "But late in the year, once they moved me, I got real comfortable and played pretty good."

Montana coach Pat Kennedy left after that season, and Dean joined Southeast's staff, so Booker decided to follow him to Cape Girardeau.

"I mainly left because Montana changed coaches, and coach Dean came to SEMO," Booker said. "I knew coach Garner because he recruited me out of junior college, and it was nice to get back close to home."

Several preseason publications have selected Booker as the OVC's newcomer of the year, and Garner has said that the Redhawks will need solid offense from Booker to help make up for the loss of their top three scorers from last season.

But if Booker is feeling any pressure to deliver, he's not showing it.

"I thrive off pressure," he said. "And I've been scoring my whole life."

Booker considers himself confident, not cocky.

"That's the No. 1 thing you have to have: confidence," he said. "If you don't have confidence in your game, you can't do anything out there."

Booker also is confident that the Redhawks will be successful this year, despite the fact they return just four players from last year's team that went 15-14, including 9-7 in the OVC.

Gone from that squad are the top three scorers, including Dainmon Gonner and Reggie Golson, who ranked first and fourth in the OVC as they combined for 37 points per game. Southeast returns a total of just 18 points per game, led by junior guard Terrick Willoughby (9.8 ppg).

"We lost some good players, but I think we have more athletes and we have more depth," Booker said. "I played with both teams, and I think we'll be better this year."

Added Booker: "This is my last year and I'm leaving everything on the court. I want to go to the [NCAA] tournament and get a ring."

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