University Press

Men’s basketball: Frank Booker’s impact goes beyond the hardwood

The Oklahoma transfer does whatever it takes to help his team win, including being a coach as well as a fan.

Junior+Frank+Booker+hasn%27t+received+the+playing+time+he+expected+since+transferring%2C+but+he+is+making+the+most+of+his+time+at+FAU.+Photo+by+Mohammed+F.+Emran
Junior Frank Booker hasn't received the playing time he expected since transferring, but he is making the most of his time at FAU. Photo by Mohammed F. Emran

Junior Frank Booker hasn't received the playing time he expected since transferring, but he is making the most of his time at FAU. Photo by Mohammed F. Emran

Junior Frank Booker hasn't received the playing time he expected since transferring, but he is making the most of his time at FAU. Photo by Mohammed F. Emran

Hans Belot Jr., Sports Editor

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Florida Atlantic men’s basketball trailed Middle Tennessee 73-51 with 5:11 left, and nobody could be heard inside FAU Arena — nobody except Frank Booker.

Junior William Pfister drove to the lane for an and-one layup, and the crowd let out a small round of applause. Booker on the other hand, was up from the bench, screaming, pumping his fist in the air and applauding louder than the 1,344 people in attendance that night.

“That’s one of the reasons why we nominated him to be a captain,” head coach Michael Curry said.

Booker, a redshirt junior, transferred from the University of Oklahoma before the 2015-16 season, hoping he would be able to get more playing time under Curry. However, after sitting out last year due to transfer rules, Booker has started just 10 games this season and his 17.6 minutes per game ranks seventh among the team.

Nonetheless, Booker has remained positive. He has embraced the role Curry assigned to him, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to earn more playing time.

When not on the court, Booker has played the role of several different people on the bench: the fan, the coach and the player.

The fan in Booker can’t help but get excited when one of his teammates makes a great play, like when junior Ronald Delph soared for an offensive rebound and dunked it over a Florida International University player back on Jan. 26. Booker was so excited and pumped up, his celebration almost caused him to bump into a referee at half court.

“I love my teammates,” Booker said. “If they are doing well, I am doing well. If they are not doing well, then I try to give them a spark in any ways possible. That’s just who I am.”

The coach in Booker is the one that brings the team together in a timeout to give a pep talk before head coach Michael Curry gets there.

“It’s always good to have someone right there that can push you,” said junior teammate Gerdarius Troutman. “In the games, even if I am [shooting] 0-for-5, he’s still going to pull me to the side and say, ‘Hey G, keep shooting and look for your shot here and there.’ Little stuff like that that will help me.”

The player is the one sitting on the bench, a little nervous as FAU and Rice were tied at 67 in the final 10 seconds of regulation. FAU had the ball on the final possession as senior Adonis Filer attempted the game winner, but his shot did not go in.

During that possession, the junior guard was on his toes, waiting to explode if Filer won the game. He was watching closely, biting his nails, itching to get in the game and make a difference.

But he wasn’t going to, and he understood why.

“That’s just a part of the game,” he said after the Rice game. “Everybody goes through their ups and downs. I was struggling shooting the ball and missed some defensive assignments. Coach sat me down and talked to me about it.”

When he is on the court, Booker is a scorer. If he sees the defender sag off, he’ll take the three. If the defender plays him too close, he’ll attack the rim and finish with a ferocious dunk or a smooth layup.

When it’s not his night on the offensive end, Booker will try and do whatever it takes to stay on the floor. He is willing to do the little stuff — diving for loose balls, drawing charges and contesting every single shot.

“I play my role,” Booker said. “I’ll do all the dirty stuff to stay on the floor. “

When Booker is off the floor, he exhausts every single ounce of energy left to push his teammates who are still in.

“Frank is always going to be the energetic guy, ” Curry said. “He’s all in with his teammates. The biggest problem with Frank is he’s probably been harder on himself than anyone else.”

In his own eyes, Booker has not been happy with how his first season at FAU has gone. He hasn’t shot or passed the ball as well as he wanted to.

The redshirt junior is eighth on the team in scoring, averaging 6.1 points per game. He had a career-high 22 points versus Middle Tennessee on Jan. 21, and his 29 made 3-pointers are the second most on the team.

“The numbers haven’t been great, but he’s had some great games for us,” Curry said.

At Westside High School in Augusta, Georgia, Booker averaged 27.9 points and 4.1 assists per game as a senior.

University of Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger — a two-time Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year from his time at the University of Florida from 1990-96 — recruited Booker to Oklahoma. There, Booker never started a game and came off the bench behind 2016 Naismith College Player of the Year and current Sacramento King Buddy Hield, who led the Sooners to the Final Four.

However, Booker wanted to do more than just backup Hield, more than play for a two-time coach of the year. He wanted to get better.

So Booker went on a quest to find the right school, the right fit, to play the sport he loves. Enter Curry, a native of Booker’s hometown of Augusta, who called Booker following his sophomore season at Oklahoma and asked him about the chance to play for FAU.

Booker enrolled to the university prior to ever stepping foot on campus. He had to sit out his first season — an NCAA transfer rules requirement — but started the first 10 games of 2016-17, and averaged 7.8 points per game.

He hasn’t started a game since.

Although he takes pride in what he does, Booker wants to be more than the hustle guy. He wants to contribute more offensively, especially shooting the ball better and getting his teammates involved more.

No matter what it is or what it takes, Booker won’t back down or shy way. He’s consistently the first one up to the task.

He’ll also be the first one to put his personal objectives aside for the benefit of his team.

“If we keep winning, we’ll be fine and I’ll be happy,” Booker said. “But I know if I can contribute a little more, I know we can win even more games.”

Until he gets his opportunity, Booker will keep doing what he has been this season, which Curry said impacts the team in its own way.

“Cheering for each other as Frank does becomes contagious, and our guys kind of follow that lead,” Curry said.

Hans Belot Jr. is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him at @Don_Phenom_.

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