Khimki’s breakout star, Devin Booker talked to Eurohoops about his impressive year in EuroLeague, his future plans, his experience playing basketball in France, Germany, and Russia, while he also answered some rapid-fire questions.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Booker is currently back home in the States. Eurohoops had a chance to talk to him and have a conversation about his entire career in Europe, his future plans, growing up with his brother and former NBAer, Trevor Booker, as well as asking him some rapid-fire questions.
Just like everyone else, Booker is currently in isolation along with his family: “At the moment I’m trying to stay isolated. Stay home as much as possible. I only go out when I really have to, for some shopping or anything else that I need. They’re starting to open up more businesses now but they’re still cautious with it.”
Since EuroLeague indefinitely suspended the season, many players haven’t been able to practice with a basketball. Anadolu Efes‘ superstar, Shane Larkin admitted to Eurohoops that he hasn’t touched a basketball in more than three weeks, while NBA star Jayson Tatum also mentioned that he hasn’t been able to practice with a basketball since the NBA’s last game. In general, players’ daily schedules look entirely different nowadays. “My daily schedule kind of varies from day-to-day. I don’t have a set schedule I follow every day,” mentions Booker. “Most of the days, I get up in the morning, help my daughter with her homework; still doing schoolwork on her iPad. Usually, after that, I try to get a workout in, and then I spend time with all my kids and get everything else done around the house. I’ve been staying in shape, but it’s not going to be the same one I get back on the court. I don’t think anything that you do off the court is going to match up to the same intensity that you do on the court. It’s definitely going to be different. As far as basketball, the only thing I can do right now is getting in dribbling workouts. I haven’t been able to go to any gyms, and get any practice in. So right now, it’s just dribbling workouts and that’s it.”
Trevor Booker’s impact
And while everyone is patiently waiting for EuroLeague’s decision regarding the future of the season, Devin Booker took us back throughout his career, starting with his childhood days at South Carolina, growing up with three brothers, including former NBAer, Trevor Booker: “Growing up we were into everything. Me with my three brothers, Trevor, Darrion, and Jarred, we were always outside. We were playing football, basketball, baseball, kickball, tag, hide and seek, fishing, taking a four-wheeler on trails to the woods. We were really outdoor kids, I’ll tell you that. I really miss those days. We definitely played one-on-one down the street. That’s what got us tough and allowed us to be physical like we are today.”
Trevor was and still is like a mentor for Devin. He’s four years older than him, and so Devin always seeks advice from him: “Trevor and I are very close, as I am with all of my brothers. We are all pretty close. Trevor has given me a lot of advice over the years. I’ve always looked up to him. He’s my oldest brother, and he’s like a mentor to me. I looked up to everything he did and I started that from a young age. He never fails. He gives it all on the court, and he’s motivating me every day. I kind of try to follow in his footsteps. Of course, he recently retired and it kind of took an impact on me. I told him that I won’t let it get me down, and it’ll just motivate me on going even harder.”
For one year in high school and one year in college, Devin and Trevor were teammates in the same basketball team. “It was awesome playing with him at Clemson for one year,” Devin recalls. “The first time playing with him was in high school for one year. That was even better cause he was a beast. He’s just had an all-around great career, and I mean who else to look up to other than someone like that?”
NBA Draft / First professional contract in Europe
In 2013, after his senior year at Clemson University, Devin Booker declared for the NBA Draft but went undrafted. At that time, his options were limited. “Honestly I didn’t know what I was going to do after the draft. It was a lot going through my mind at the time. I talked to my agent and we came up with the best solution, which was to go to France, and that’s when my career started.”
In his first go-around in Europe, Booker signed a deal with French team, Nancy. “Once I first arrived in France, that’s when reality set in,” he says. “I was in another country, and it kind of took a toll on me. I became home-sick right away and wanted to come back home. I didn’t do much research to the place I was going to. I didn’t know anything about going to another country. I was going with the flow; that’s usually what I also do when I’m in the States, so I figured to just go with the flow but reality set in once I finally arrived and realized I was over there by myself. It was definitely difficult at first. It took some time to get adjusted, but I had a lot of guys in my first team in Nancy that helped me get situated with the overseas life, and I’m forever thankful for them.”
Basketball-wise, his first year in Nancy didn’t go according to plan. “The coach and I didn’t see eye-to-eye,” he recalls. “I wasn’t getting much playing time, but I was there working hard every day. So, I talked to my agent and we figured that the best thing to do is move on to another team. We came to an agreement with that club (Nancy) and they let me leave.”
And so, Booker moved from Nancy to a Pro B (second division) team at the time, JL Bourg. “When I got there, we won the championship and moved up to Pro A (first division). That’s when my career started. It didn’t really start in Nancy. I got nothing against the team. I just don’t feel like it started there. It started in Bourg-en-Bresse (JL Bourgh). They were the ones who actually gave me a chance to showcase my talent. I’m grateful for the fact that they allowed me to play the game of basketball, the way I know-how. I had a pretty good time at Bourg-en-Bresse, and after that, I went to Chalon. Chalon was another great team that allowed me to showcase my talent, and I ended up winning the MVP award there. All around my experience in France was pretty good for me.”
NBA Summer League / Bayern Munich
“That was my last time doing summer league in 2016. I actually didn’t have intentions ongoing to play in the summer league that year. The team was interested in me, and I told my agent I wasn’t going to it that year. I think the day before the first game, they were still trying to get me to come out there, so I ended up going. I guess I went out there and tried my luck, but also get some good games in, against some good competitors. That was the main thing for me. I didn’t have high hopes for the summer league. I was out there just trying to get some good games in, against some great players.”
Bayern Munich came in next. “I signed with Bayern that same summer. I signed a one-year contract cause I was going to a new country and I didn’t know exactly what to expect. So, I figured it was best for me to sign a one-year deal for that first contract,” Booker says. “I was in a comfortable situation and I felt pretty good about where I was, so I ended up signing another year, and another year after that. It was comfortable living there in Munich. Great club, a great experience for myself and my family. Class act organization all-around.”
During his time in Germany, Booker played in the 7Days EuroCup competition, and in 2018, he made the All-EuroCup First Team. Next season, the team participated in the EuroLeague competition, and he made his EL debut. “I was lucky enough for them to give me a chance and showcase what I can do. It gave me the confidence that I needed, to go further my career.”
After three seasons in Germany with Bayern Munich, and six years in Europe, Devin Booker signed a big contract with a traditional EuroLeague playoff team, Khimki Moscow last summer. Booker admitted that there was a lot of interest from EuroLeague teams: “There was a lot of interest on my behalf, but only a few offers. I felt Khimki was the best offer that was on the table for me, after weighing out all my options. That’s the team I went for, and I don’t regret it.”
Even though Booker had individual successes in his time in France and Germany, he made his EuroLeague debut in 2018, when he was 27 years old. When asked by Eurohoops on if he thinks it took him a long time to establish himself in Europe’s biggest competition, he replied: “I definitely don’t think it took me a long time to establish myself in EuroLeague. Last year was my first year, but I honestly feel like I could’ve played in EuroLeague years ago before I even had the chance of playing for the first time. I always felt that way.”
This season, Devin Booker established his self as one of the best big men in Europe, who not only impact the game in the paint, but also behind the arc. He averaged 11.6 points on 62.4% from inside the arc, 45.9% from beyond the arc, and 85.1% from the free-throw line. “Honestly I felt a different level of comfort at Khimki,” says Devin. “Every team I played for I was comfortable in, but this season with Khimki was like a different level of comfort, and that also showed on the court. I played with some great players, and they helped me out to become what I was this season. I was really enjoying playing this season.”
Future / NBA
In the summer, Booker is a free agent and many EuroLeague teams are expected to be interested. The 29-year old, however only has one thing on his mind: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m going to continue grinding and working out. I can control what I can on this side and whatever else happens after that, it’ll be what it is. As of now, I’m just controlling the things that I can control. I’ll be ready for whatever comes up.”
Last but not least, the NBA remains a goal for Booker: “Of course I’d like to play in the NBA, but if that doesn’t happen, I won’t let it get me discouraged. I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing, working out, and controlling what I can control.”
Rapid-fire questions (excluding himself and his teammates):
Best EuroLeague player: Shane Larkin
Toughest defender: Walter Tavares
Toughest player to guard: Greg Monroe
Toughest arena to play at: Maccabi
Favorite European city to visit: Athens
Favorite EuroLeague player to watch: Derrick Williams
Euroleague’s best starting five (based on this season – two players for each position, no order):
PG: Nick Calathes, Facundo Campazzo
SG: Mike James, Shane Larkin
SF: Nando De Colo, Rokas Giedraitis
PF: Nikola Mirotic, Derrick Williams
C: Greg Monroe, Walter Tavares
Most clutch EuroLeague player: Shane Larkin
One EuroLeague player you’d love to see in the NBA: Walter Tavares
Would an elite EuroLeague team make the Eastern Conference playoffs: For sure. EuroLeague has a lot of talent. Easily make the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Favorite moment of your career: Winning the MVP in France
NBA player your game is similar to: Kevin Love.
What type of music do you listen to before a game: Always listen to some J.Cole. And then I have to get hyped, so something to get me pumped up.
Thumbs up or thumbs down on EuroLeague having an All-Star Game: Honestly, I think EuroLeague should be its own league. I think EuroLeague players shouldn’t play in their domestic leagues as well. An All-Star Game would be great. I’m all for it.
Thumbs up or thumbs down on getting rid of the Final Four and following NBA’s playoff format: I haven’t played in the playoffs yet, so I can’t really answer that question. Hopefully next year, I could answer that, or later this year if the EuroLeagueactually continues.
Favorite player growing up: Carmelo Anthony. His game was silky smoove. I try to model my game after him.
LeBron or MJ: I’m tired of hearing this debate. You can’t really say who’s better. They played in different eras. No one really knows who’s the best. They can never play against each other at the same age, so no one knows who’s the best. That question is always going to be up for debate. I have no answer for that. LeBron is dominating right now and Jordan dominated during his time.