Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The 2015 Senior Class - Askia Booker

It's once again that time of year.  The time to reflect on what has been, and honor the graduating seniors from the Colorado basketball program. With all do respect to messrs Nelson and Bates, though, I feel the need to break up the pleasantries this year.  For the third year in a row, only one scholarship senior will have his name called out on the day of the final home game, and it's a big one.  This week is dedicated to that man, Askia Booker, and his contributions to the program.  So is this column.


Askia Booker - Los Angeles, CA -

Diminutive, spunky, lightning-in-a-bottle, Ski came to CU as the undercard of one of the more underrated recruiting classes in program history. But it almost wasn't.  Booker was a somewhat lightly regarded shooter coming out of Price High School in LA.  While Coach Boyle and staff had him on their radar, a risky decision after his junior year of high school to switch to AAU powerhouse Compton Magic hurt his visibility. "They just stopped calling," Booker said. "It was pretty obvious. They fell off. Everybody fell off."  For a time, it looked as if the man to become known simply as 'Ski' would be playing his college ball for the Cal State Northridges of the world.

Askia Booker, however, is made of sterner stuff than most.  Showing that American-sized dose of swagger and intensity that he would become known for in Boulder, Ski dedicated himself in the gym, working diligently to earn the high-major scholarship he knew he deserved.  Suddenly, he was the best player on a high school team full of nationally regarded talent.  Eventually, that CU offer came, and ESPN named him the incoming sleeper ($) in the Pac-12 his freshman year. Paired with fellow freshman Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs suddenly had a backcourt foundation to build upon.

Almost from the moment he stepped on campus, you could tell Askia was special.  While some only see the brazen mid-range jumpers, I see the heart and effort behind them.  Booker has always played with a massive chip on his shoulder - a sense that he has to continually prove himself to the doubters - which took the form of hundreds of thousands of shots, year after year in the practice gym. No Buff has ever worked harder.  It was in those moments, behind closed doors, working his ass off, that the 'Scrat' was forged, and a legend was born. 

The basics of his game are simple to identify.  It's all based on speed and aggression. What sets him apart, however, is that Booker has a will, a hunger to win that supersedes all caution. Everything Ski does on the court is meant to take advantage of guys on their heels, players that don't share his commitment to making the most out of every moment.  How else do you explain the shot above of the 6-1 Booker blocking the half-hearted dunk attempt of a seven-foot center from USC? The chip that drives him to put in the work when the cameras are off drives him to take risks when they are on.  But that's the thing.  Just as in life, fortune favors the bold.  In the world of college basketball, where drowsy halfcourt sets and momentum killing timeouts rule, Ski is the swizzle stick stirring up a ruckus.

If safeties-free, all-balls performances like 17 points as a freshman in the NCAA Tournament, or a sizzling domination of a non-conference run in Charleston as a sophomore didn’t let you in on the secret, let me clue you in: Askia Booker was born to get buckets. Important buckets. Season-defining buckets. Winning buckets.  He has a sense for the moment, rising to the occasion with fearlessness.  It is inspiring, and, ultimately, winning basketball.

Seriously, look back over the last four years at everything that made the #RollTad era what it was.  You will see Ski, balls-to-the-walls as always, smirking in the middle. He was the fuel behind the 3-0 start to conference play in 2012, the Tournament win over UNLV that same year, the Charleston Classic title in 2013, the near comeback against Illinois in that year's Dance, the statement win over Kansas last winter, the recovery process after Dinwiddie's injury, and every moment of joy you could mention from this season. Definitive moments from an era of excellence.

The product on the court wasn't always the prettiest; #SKIBALL, after all, was never meant for the feint of heart. But, through all those risks, one fact remains: Booker is a winner. He finishes his career as a conference champion, a non-conference tournament MVP, a three-time participant in the NCAA Tournament, and a winner of 79 games (out of 128 played - 62%). With at least five probable starts remaining, he's also in the top-10 for a number of categories on the all-time CU rolls.  8th in scoring with 1,634 points.  5th in made three pointers.  8th in steals.  4th in minutes and games played.  The list of players who can even approach what he accomplished in Boulder is incredibly short.

To underscore what he means to the success or failure of the program, just consider this:
  • In games where Ski shot at least 40% from the floor, the Buffs won over 78% of the time.  
  • In games where he was under?  Colorado was a sub .500 club, only winning 34 of 72.  
As Ski went, so did CU.

It's weird to think of him without running mate Spencer Dinwiddie. The pair teamed so well together, a yin and a yang.  Dinwiddie, the mercurial point, Booker, the flashy two guard.  The mesh of their talents burned brightest the last time they shared the court at the Coors Events Center, when they ripped off 50 combined points against Oregon to slingshot the Buffs into the top-15.  It was at that moment that CU was at their best, focused around the daring duo from LA.

Related, there's a part of me that fears that Ski's graduation is the final chapter of a now complete book.  He's the last of the 2012 Pac-12 champions, the last of a generation of talent that took CU basketball to heretofore unheard of heights.  If that is the case, if the wave has indeed crested and spent its energy on the rocks, then how can you not give even more credence to Ski's exploits in Black and Gold?  As talented individually as his current teammates are, they can't measure up to the intangibles that Ski brought to the table each and every day - against comparable talent, that's the difference between winning and losing.

It kills me that this year hasn't been more successful.  It kills me that there are still fans that doubt how or why Ski is as important to the history of this program as he is.  In both respects, Booker deserved better.  But this is not a perfect business - Ski's own success shows that.

When preparing to profile Ski's career in Boulder, I thought back to another controversial guard from recent times, Nate Tomlinson. Just as some witnesses rejected Nate's handling of the rock during his stay at Colorado, many reflexively disdain Booker.  They see the wild shots, the awkward moments, and miss the larger picture. Tomlinson and Booker were both dyed-in-the-wool winners. If, after all you've seen over the last four years, you're still a Ski-denier, then I can't help you.  You've missed the boat on one of the most entertaining and successful players to ever grace the hardwood of the CEC.

Thank you, Askia! You're John McClane in Black and Gold; the sneering action hero fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds. There will never be another like you.


Best remembered for - 

Can there be another answer?  Of course, it's the game winner against Kansas

Watch the gif. Count the fucks given by Booker. There are none to be found. After release, he just stands there, as if waiting for the oncoming train of noise. Waiting for us, the fans, to realize what he has just pulled off. He was born to hit that shot. He was born to euro-step into that shot. 

This was Ski in his element.  That absurd, delirious element he thrived in.   When you needed someone to step up and grab the bull by the horns, Askia Booker was your man.  That shot will lead the run of program highlights for years to come.

Best aspect of his game - 

Speed.  Pure, unadulterated speed. In open transition, no one can keep pace. His dribble-drive comes off like a rocket launch.  Ski can seemingly go from top of the key to rim in two steps; off of a half-pivot, no less.  Fucking lightning.  There's a reason, after all, that defenses pack the lane against CU.  Not only are there no other shooters to draw their eye, but they know that no one will be able to stay with Ski if he gets that first step off.

Best game as a Buff - 

There's a lot of contenders here.  The Oregon game from his freshman year, the declarative statement of his efforts against UNLV in Albuquerque, the Charleston Classic finale against Murray State, the Kansas game (more of a moment, though), any number of games last winter as the team recovered from the Dinwiddie injury, the pure 30 he dropped in Tucson last month.  In the end, however, thinking on what #SKIBALL really means, there was only one choice: Ski's 43 in Los Angeles against USC.

With Booker, the high points are heart, effort, and a will to win.  He showed all three back on January 29th, refusing to quit in his home town.  It took three overtimes, and he had to overcome a sore hip, but he poured on 43 massive points to drag CU, kicking and screaming, into a 98-94 win over the Trojans. It wasn't as perfect or as effortless as the game in Tucson a few weeks earlier, but that's what made it so Ski like.  It was slightly-flawed brilliance. 13-23 from the floor, 13-15 from the line, he was an all encompassing force.  Never was he better.

1 comment:

Aaron Jordan said...

I am gonna miss Ski, he was always fun to watch and I like to see effort above all else, which Ski has never failed at.