Booker trying out new role at Centre camp

June 24, 2004|MIKE MARSEE

James Booker may look like one of the guys, but now he's one of the coaches.

He could pass for one of the players who return during the summer to work with the kids at Centre College's basketball camp, but his role is changing, even in this setting, as he makes the transition to assistant coach.

Booker won't officially start his job on the Centre men's basketball staff until Sept. 1, but he is already beginning to think like a coach.

He coaches a team in a summer camp and pays careful attention to the situational drills. He watches players in a summer league with an eye toward their college potential.


And as he spends time with the younger set this week at the Centre College Boys Basketball Camp at Danville High School, things are different there, too.

He is in front of the group more than he would have been a year ago at this time, when he was just one of the guys.

"Coach is using this as a training ground, giving me a little more responsibility," Booker said. "I'm talking to the players a little more, doing a lot of the demonstrations in the drills."

Booker had concluded during his last year or two at Centre that he'd like to get into coaching, and head coach Greg Mason knew it. So when the latest class of Centre graduates went off to look for work, Booker only had to go as far as the basketball office.

"I was really surprised when Coach asked me if I was interested in the job," he said. "It's a great opportunity, especially starting out at the college level."

And Mason said he thinks Centre is lucky to have Booker.

"James could do so many different things," Mason said.

Booker will replace last year's two part-time assistants, Stacey Hall and Eddie Mason, on the Centre bench. Hall took a job as a school principal, and Eddie Mason, the head coach's father, will return to retirement and his seat a few rows behind the bench.

"James is going to be a great addition," Greg Mason said. "James is obviously going to help us a lot on the floor, but also in recruiting."

There are bound to be some awkward moments, too, as Booker begins to coach players he ran the floor with last winter.

"It's going to be a little bit of a transition, but the guys on the team really respect James. There's a respect there that is really going to help him get through that," Mason said.

"I think starting out it'll be a little awkward, but I have respect for the players and they have respect for me," Booker said. "I don't think it'll be a big problem. It'll just take some getting used to."

What Booker said may be more difficult is knowing that he can't take the floor come game time.

"That's something I really have to get used to," he said. "I can only help from the bench."

Booker led Centre's regular players in free-throw percentage (.881), 3-point percentage (.441) and 3-pointers (56) last season, when he averaged 10.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game and was named to the all-Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference second team.

This is the second of two weeks Booker is spending at the Centre camps, which were moved off campus this year due to the renovation of Centre's gyms. He's working with about 40 kids this week at Danville, and there were just over 50 in camp two weeks ago at Mercer County High School.

But he isn't drawing a regular paycheck yet, so he's spending most of his summer near his Louisville home, working in camps and staying close to summer leagues.

He said he is trying to look at the high school players in those leagues through the eyes of a recruiter, something he said he's never really done before.

"It's an interesting process," he said. "I've really been getting interested in recruiting and how it works. I never knew how much work there was in recruiting."

There are long hours and hard work ahead, both on the recruiting trail and in the gym. But Booker knows how lucky he is.

"It's just a blessing to be able to start out at this level," he said. "A lot of high school coaches try for years to get to the college level."

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