Clemson forward Devin Booker is ready to lead the Tigers back to the postseason after averaging 10.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season. (Credit: Rex Brown/IPTAY Media)
Devin Booker stayed busy over the summer, splitting time between going to class and improving his basketball skills on the Clemson campus.
After all that work Booker finally took a break in September for a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit older brother Trevor, a former college teammate and current forward for the Washington Wizards. It was an eight-hour drive both ways for Booker, now a senior, and Clemson graduate assistant Jonah Baize, but the time with family was well worth the trip.
“We were able to bond a lot, play against each other and make each other better,” Booker said in a recent interview with College Chalktalk. “He’s someone I can look to for anything and tells me about the hard work it takes to get to the level he’s at. I know this is going to be a quick year, and I know I have to put in the hard work now.”
Booker is putting in the hard work to help Clemson bounce back after going 16-15 overall and 8-8 in the ACC last season and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. He led the Tigers in rebounding (7.0 rpg) a season ago and is their top returning scorer (10.5 ppg).
The 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward/center went into the offseason knowing there was room for improvement. His numbers have improved each of the past three years, going from playing a supporting role as a freshman (4.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg) to scoring in double digits last season.
“I’m pretty decent in the post but wanted to improve my perimeter game,” Booker said. “I also worked on my ball-handling, pull-up jumpers off the dribble, pump fakes and finishing around the rim.”
Booker joins F Milton Jennings (9.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) as the only two starters – and lone seniors – back for Clemson. The Tigers have 12 underclassmen and six newcomers on the roster, so they’ll lean heavily on Booker and Jennings.
“We’ve never had a situation like this before,” Booker said. “We’re just taking it from the beginning. We listen to the coaches and see what we can teach these young guys every day.”
Third-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell has high expectations for Booker this season. The Tigers were picked eighth in the ACC in both the coaches and media preseason polls.
“I think Devin has improved, and I think he’s worked harder on his game than in years past,” Brownell recently told the ACC.com. “Everyone sees his ability and wants more, myself included, and Devin is at the point where he’s hopefully ready to do that. He needs to take one more big step. I need him to be comfortable, to be confident and to unload and really play with reckless abandon at times out there and use his athleticism on every play.”
Brownell added that Clemson should have a strong backcourt with the return of Booker and Jennings, a former McDonald’s All-American.
“We feel good about Devin Booker and Milton Jennings,” Brownell said. “They’re two seniors who have paid their dues. We feel like they’re ready to have big seasons. You go into the ACC always worried if you’re going to be physically ready to play, and I think at least in the frontcourt we’ll be physically able to compete.”
Clemson made the NCAA tournament in each of Booker’s first two years but missed the postseason last season despite ranking second in the ACC in scoring defense (60.6 ppg). The Tigers won five of their last seven conference games but also had five league losses by a single possession.
Overall, Clemson suffered eight losses in ACC play by an average margin of 6.3 points.
“Two years ago it was tough to play against us because the help defense was on point,” Booker said. “I guess we kind of lost that last year. It just didn’t click for us. That’s been something we’ve been focusing on and trying to get back. Hopefully, it will show up this season.”
Outside of Booker and Jennings, Clemson faces several unknowns this season. The backcourt will have a new look after G Andre Young (13.3 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.7 spg) and G Tanner Smith (11.2 ppg, 4.1 apg, 1.7 spg) exhausted their eligibility and G Devin Coleman (2.6 ppg) tore his Achilles tendon over the summer.
Sophomore G Rod Hall (3.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.1 apg) is battling freshmen G Adonis Filer and G Jordan Roper for playing time at point guard. Brownell also hopes for more consistency from a pair of sophomores, 6-6 F K.J. McDaniels (3.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg) and 6-2 G T.J. Sapp (3.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg).
Booker is eager to assume more of a leadership role with Clemson facing so many questions this season.
“This year I’m more of an aggressive player and more of a leader now,” Booker said. “I’m going to play with energy and determination and hope it rubs off on the younger guys. If we get a defensive mentality we can make a statement this year.”
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