Redhawks days behind, Booker eyes pro options

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The OVC's top scorer this past season, Roy Booker looks to stay on the court.

Roy Booker's collegiate playing days are over, but his hoop dreams stay alive.

The former Portageville High School basketball standout completed his college career with one season at Southeast Missouri State, in which he led the Redhawks and the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring at 22 points per game, which ranks 15th in the nation. He was voted to the all-OVC second team and the conference's all-newcomer team.

Booker, who recently signed with an agent, is now in the process of pursuing a career in professional basketball.

"I love basketball," he said. "It's my life. I want to play for another 10 to 15 years."

The first step towards that goal is an upcoming signing with the USBL's Kansas Cagerz. According to Booker, he has been assured he will be a first-round draft pick of the Cagerz, based in Salina, Kan. The USBL, an eight-team developmental pro summer league, will conduct its draft on April 11. The USBL's two-month season begins April 21.

"It's a chance to make a little money and stay in shape until I find out where I'm going to be for good," said Booker, who was busy working out on a campus in Arkansas when contacted for this interview. "I've been working hard so I think I'll do well."

Booker expects to hear this week if he will be invited to the Portsmouth Invitational, a camp that begins April 8 in Portsmouth, Va., where 64 of the top seniors in the nation gather to showcase their skills in front of NBA scouts and coaches.

Booker has had contact with several NBA teams -- the Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls -- as well as five or six professional leagues with teams in Brazil, Italy and Australia. NBA team tryouts run through May and June.

"It's just a matter of how good I play in them," Booker said. "That's why I'm staying in shape and working harder than ever right now on my physical conditioning. I need to be in top shape, keep working on my ballhandling skills and be able to guard.

"I want to have those tryouts, play in this league [USBL], then see where I'm at."

Booker has a professional athlete/role model within his own family. His uncle, Jamie Booker, was a standout at the University of Washington in the 1990s who went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Booker, at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, has proven his scoring ability at every level, but believes his skills go beyond just scoring.

"I'm a natural scorer, but if they need me to drop assists, I can do that," he said, "but, at SEMO, they needed me to score. I want to be a 2 guard, but I know I'm going to have to be a combo guard in the pros. I'm going to have to play the 1 and 2.

"There are only about five really true point guards in the NBA," he added. "Everybody else just says they're point guards. The 1, 2, and 3 all bring the ball up the court."

Booker's basketball travels have taken him from Portageville to the plains of Kansas to the Big Sky Country of Montana.

Recruited to Allen County Community College in Iola, Kan., following an all-state senior season at Portageville High School, Booker played two seasons for the Red Devils, averaging 20.7 ppg as a freshman and 21 ppg as a sophomore. He received all-conference and all-region honors and was rated by The Sporting News as the best junior college shooting guard.

He spent his junior year at the University of Montana, where he averaged 9.3 ppg and came on strong toward the end of the season. Upon transferring to Southeast, Booker was forced to sit out a season before resuming play his senior year.

Although Southeast suffered through one of its worst seasons since moving up to Division I (7-20, 4-16 in the OVC), Booker refused to question his move.

"SEMO was a good fit for me," Booker said. "I had a chance to play close to home, where my mom and brother could see me, and that was important to me.

"We had a tough season, and a lot of people said I had a good season individually, but that doesn't matter if your team doesn't win. That was kind of a letdown for me. I had high hopes coming in. I wanted to get to the [NCAA] tournament."

An equally big letdown was seeing Redhawks coach Gary Garner fired following the season.

"Of all the coaches I've been associated with throughout my basketball career, nobody wanted to win more than coach Garner and my high school coach, Jim Bidewell," Booker said. "If we hadn't had all the injuries, I think we could have been a contender in our conference. That was stuff he couldn't control.

"I thought he was a wonderful man. He helped me so much. I thank him for letting me play loose this year. A lot of my success has a lot to do with him. I thought he deserved another shot."

Booker thought Garner should have had a chance to coach next year's team with transfers Brandon Foust (Oklahoma) and Michael Rembert (Bradley), who had to sit out this year but will be eligible in 2006-07.

"When they brought those kids in, I thought he should have had another year to prove if he was able to coach this team," Booker said.

He graduated with a degree in university studies in December.

"SEMO treated me well," Booker said. "All the teachers and the staff, everybody was just wonderful to me. It was a good experience."

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