Centre's Booker, King near end of decade together

January 08, 2004|JILL ERWIN

They've seen the ups, the downs, the high-flying dunks and the the painful losses. But through it all, James Booker and Rob King have always had each other's back.

The Centre College seniors have been teammates for 10 years and friends for even longer, spending their formative years playing basketball or video games or just hanging out.

Now, as their final year of college basketball, and perhaps basketball in general, winds down, the two are cherishing every moment they have left.

It's a friendship forged on the hardwood but it's one based on so much more than just basketball. The two know each other better than perhaps anyone else, and they say the journey of their friendship is one that has been worth it.


Two different personalities

It's easy to tell the two apart. Descriptions of each are remarkably similar, regardless of who's doing the describing: King is the life of the party, outgoing and energetic, while Booker is quieter and more reserved.

"He just has a certain aura about him," Booker said about King. "He has the kind of personality where he's real outgoing and people are going to pay attention to him. He's just that kind of guy."

"He's probably the best kid you'll ever meet as far as personality and manners," King said of Booker. "He's the type of guy you would want to have on your team."

But it's exactly those differences that the two say make their friendship what it is.

"I think, definitely, we go well together," Booker said. "I just basically let him do all the talking and I'm just in the background. We just have each other's best interest at heart. I know I can talk to him about anything. We've been through so many things together that everything just comes naturally."

"Our personalities feed off of each other," King said. "We're really similar, but different, and the difference is a good difference. I pull him one way, he pulls me the other."

That give and take also shows up on the court. King is a high-flying forward, leading Centre in both scoring and rebounding. Booker is a guard, solid in the backcourt but also capable of standout games as he was named the MVP of Centre's holiday tournament.

But their basketball history started long ago. In fact, it started with failure.

The two met the summer before sixth grade at an academic camp in Louisville. The two formed a friendship and discovered they'd both be attending Westport Middle School in the fall.

That year, both tried out for the basketball team. The morning the list of team members was posted, King said both he and Booker got to the list at the same time.

"We were like, 'I know I'm on here somewhere. I know I'm on here,'" King said. "Then we were like, 'Obviously I've missed it, let me go back through here again.' I think we stood there for a good five minutes, and then we realized we didn't make it. We were just crushed.

"We had English together and we were like, 'Man, I'll bet you a dollar I make it next year.' By the end of the year, it was up to like five bucks."

Both cashed in on that bet, as the two made the team in seventh grade. They've been teammates ever since, graduating up to duPont Manual High School two years later.

As their high school years wound down, college recruiters came to see both players. Booker and King never spoke of going to the same college, but both players said Centre had what they were looking for.

Centre coach Greg Mason said the two players were exactly what he was looking for.

"Rob has so much charisma and he's a natural leader. The other kids really look up to him and really like him," Mason said. "James is as solid of a young man as you'll ever meet. It's hard not to like those two kids."

Their days as teammates will soon end

Time is ticking away on their days as teammates. Centre has just over two months left in its season, and chances are that the two won't be playing competitive basketball together anymore.

King said he thought about that before this season began, and said the end of the games will bring a change.

"Even the days when I really don't want to practice, I'll walk in and James will be doing something goofy and then I'm prepared to practice," King said. "It will be hard to even play and not have him there, whether he's running his mouth on the court or breaking somebody down."

Booker said he wants to teach middle school, and he said King will probably be somewhere in the business world. He knows their different careers will make it tougher to hang out, but he has every faith the two will remain close.

"I think we'll still be good friends, even after college," Booker said. "We probably won't get to see each other as much, but we'll definitely stay in touch with each other."

"Oh, yeah," King said, "I don't see how we wouldn't."

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