COLUMBIA | Melvin Booker reached for the phone and saw it was his son, Devin. He quickly answered it, all the while hoping for the best.
It was the morning of June 15, the first day Division I basketball coaches are allowed to offer scholarships to soon-to-be juniors, and it turns out the younger Booker had just received a call they had both been waiting on for a very long time.
“He told me that Missouri had just called, and they offered him a scholarship,” Melvin said. “He was definitely excited."
With good reason. The offer officially opened the door for the high-scoring 6-foot-3 shooting guard – a four-star prospect who is rated by Rivals as the No. 31 overall player in the class of 2014 – to potentially follow in his father’s footsteps at Missouri, where he starred at point guard from 1991-1994.
“I had a lot of success there,” Melvin said, which just might be an understatement.
Melvin, who was named to Missouri’s Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999, is regarded as one of his alma mater’s all-time greats. A 6-foot-1 point guard, he averaged almost 14 points per game for his career and racked up 488 assists for the Tigers, the second most in school history behind Anthony Peeler (497). The pinnacle of Booker's career came in 1994, when he was named the Big Eight Player of the Year and led the Tigers to a 28-4 record and an appearance in the Elite Eight.
And make no mistake about it, the chance for Devin – who attends the same Mississippi high school his dad did and has also been offered by Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Michigan – to follow his dad at Missouri was part of the recruiting pitch laid out by MU head coach Frank Haith and associate head coach Tim Fuller.
“We talked about following in my dad’s footsteps, though this experience will ultimately be about me,” said Devin, who (according to Rivals) averaged around 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game last season at Moss Point High School, where Melvin is currently an assistant coach.
“They said Missouri would love to have me,” Devin continued, “and that all the fans that supported my dad would support me.”
Don’t underestimate the power of that last pitch. Melvin said he comes back to Columbia with his son – who grew up wearing Missouri gear – once or twice a year, and it always feels like he never left.
“The biggest thing I got out of playing at Missouri is that Columbia became a second home to me,” Melvin said. “I was a kid who left a small town in Mississippi and went to the middle of Missouri, and those people embraced me. When I go back, the love I get from those fans and people, and the way they still remember certain games or situations from my career, that’s exciting. You can’t beat that.”
Devin is also struck by the way the way his father is received when he returns to Columbia.
“Every time we go up there, no matter where we are, people are like ‘Oh man, it’s Melvin Booker,” Devin said with a laugh. “People are waiting to get his autograph at halftime. It’s like he knows everyone there.
“It makes an impression.”
But while Melvin clearly has a lot of love in his heart for Missouri, he insists he won’t be directing his son to any school in particular.
“It would be nice to see him in a Missouri uniform,” Melvin said, “ and a lot of people assume he’s going to Missouri. When other schools call, that’s the first thing they ask – is he going there because you went there? I tell them he’ll go to Missouri if he wants to go to Missouri. It’s his choice.”
And for his part, Devin – who lived with his mother in Grand Rapids, Mich., until last year – said it’s way too early in the process to name a leader right now. Michigan would figure to be a contender for his services; he did grow up in that state, after all, only leaving to spend the summers with his dad, and a story done by Rivals.com noted his mom as a Wolverine fan.
However, Devin is adamant he has no leader right now, and is admittedly intrigued by the prospect of playing Missouri.
“Yeah, it is tempting, I can’t lie,” Devin said. “But whatever school best fits me is the one I’ll decide on. My dad isn’t going to make me go to Missouri. He just cares that school fits me.”
And right now, what Devin is looking for is a good academic institution and a coaching staff he feels comfortable with. He’s also looking for a big-time game day environment, and he wants to pick a place with a solid alumni network, just in case he doesn’t make the NBA.
“I actually haven’t been on Missouri’s campus and looked at the academics, but I heard it’s pretty good there,” Devin said. “And the coaching staff? I love them. I actually went to the KU game in Columbia and talked to coach Haith. I’ve been to three KU games and they were all crazy.
“They are in the top group,” Devin finally said, referring to Missouri. “That’s all I can say.”
And while a decision doesn’t seem to be on the horizon any time soon – the Bookers are just letting the offers roll in for now – Melvin thinks Devin will settle on a school before his senior year because the volume of calls and texts messages he’s getting from college coaches is already starting to wear on him.
Devin would only say that he expects to narrow his list of schools down after sometime after the fall.
“It’s hard to say it gets annoying because I used to be a kid wishing for this, and now it’s coming true,” Devin said of the constant attention. “I can’t really complain.”
And if Devin does, in fact, choose to go to Missouri, that would certainly be a storybook ending, at least for the fans who cheered for his father back in the day.
It would also seem to be the logical choice for a kid who wore his dad’s trademark No. 15 all the way until last year, when he thought about bringing his dad’s number out of retirement at Moss Point, but was ultimately forced to choose a different number because of a state rule that doesn’t allow retired numbers to be re-retired at a high school if they are returned to circulation.
Of course, Devin wouldn’t face the same problem at Missouri, where Melvin’s No. 15 remains in circulation and has since been worn by Josh Kroenke, Marshall Brown, Keith Ramsey and Kadeem Green.
“If he wants number 15, he can have it,” Melvin said. “Maybe they’ll put it in the rafters after he wears it.”
But when asked about the possibility, Devin shot it down, saying he’s grown accustomed to the No. 2 he currently wears at Moss Point.
“I don’t think I’ll wear his number in college,” Devin said. “I think I’ll carry on my own number.”
Then, a moment passes, and you can almost imagine the sentimentality of following in his dad’s footsteps wash over him.
“But if I picked Missouri,” Devin said, “I’d think about it.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.