BURNABY — At the age of 16, you could say that the pages of Tarrence Booker’s basketball life are just now being written.
Yet engage the St. Thomas More Collegiate Grade 11 point guard on any number of topics, both on and off the court, and it becomes pretty clear that he’s already a few chapters along in developing a deeper understanding of the game and its bigger picture.
Like that day back in early November, when he — along with current head coach Aaron Mitchell and teammates Timmy Gonzales and Matthew Lee — attended the Celebration of Life for the late STM head coach Rich Goulet.
For Booker, it afforded the opportunity to hear the words of his elders paying homage to a man whose foundational influence on the sport has, in large part, led to the tradition of excellence he himself now enjoys within the comfy confines of the Knights’ new gymnasium.
And for a kid who grew up in the game, with parents who both played top-level university basketball, none of any of that was lost on him.
“Coach Mitchell really wanted me to understand how great a person Rich was and how great an impact he had on basketball in B.C.,” Booker reflected on Monday between classes. “And I think we, by attending, were able to represent our gratitude to (Goulet) and what he means to STM basketball.”
Coming out of the COVID-cancelled 2020-21 season, there was a sense of the unknown surrounding the vast majority of B.C.’s teams, and if Burnaby’s Knights were one of those, they have also qualified as one of its most pleasant surprises.
Unranked to start the season at Triple A, they currently sit at No. 6 provincially, powered by a core group off 11 Grade 11 players, including the likes of guards Booker and Gonzales, and front-court standouts Evan Wang, Chris Ainsley and Dom Kully, as well as seniors like guards Lee and Tristan Schianni.
For his part, Booker has proven to be a fun, fascinating study as 5-foot-11 southpaw point guard who loves to dish, but is also ready and willing to play the role of a scorer.
“He sees himself as a distributor and a facilitator and a point guard,” says Mitchell, “and we agree, especially when he is surrounded by eight or nine university or college players at the next level.
“But I had to say to him ‘We need you to score 12-to-20 for us, and still look to distribute,” Mitchell continued of what is so often asked of a team’s top athletes at the high school level. “He paused, he looked at me, and he said ‘You’re right.’”
And so there Booker was, on the final day of December’s Tsumura Basketball Invitational at the Langley Events Centre, staring up at the scoreboard and seeing that his Knights had fallen behind off of the opening tip to the Quad-A Vancouver Island powers from Claremont by a 19-1 count.
Victoria’s Spartans wound up winning the game 84-74, but Booker’s complete performance, which included a team-high 25 points, went a long ways towards a Knights’ rally attempt, which at one point had seen them creep to within 65-62.
“He’s agile, he’s quick, he can finish in the lane and he makes the right reads,” says Mitchell of Booker’s offensive game, noting that on defence, his ability to guard on the ball often times generates steals. “I think he’ll admit to you that he needs to be more consistent with his jump shot. But when that happens, he is going to be pretty hard to stop.”
And these days, as he and Gonzales, the team’s top two scorers, find each other inside the STM gym each morning by 7 a.m. to begin work, Booker is able to reflect on just how having former college basketball players as parents has helped him better prepare for what he hopes will be his own healthy career in the game following high school as well.
“They have been through it all, they know what I am going through right now,” Booker explains of mom Michelle Booker née McKenzie, a 5-foot-10 forward who played her high school basketball at Port Moody Secondary and then at Simon Fraser in the late 1980s, and dad Anthony Booker, a 6-foot-2 guard whose career included a season in the Southwest Conference in 1987-88 at Texas A&M. “They are able to give me advice on not just how to become a better player, but on how basketball relates to life.”
As Mitchell watches Booker on the court, he often uses the phrase ‘He’s as cool as a fan’ to describe the calm demeanour and poker face he brings to floor.
“Tarrence is pretty stoic, he is introverted on the court, but really competitive,” says Mitchell, “so I’m learning that his body language, or lack of body emotion… you can’t be fooled by that. He does have leadership skills, but it’s coming along in its own way. So having him find those moments when he can say something, when he does, it’s even more powerful.”
And staying right in the present moment, Booker is indeed living the basketball life he’d always hoped to.
As a fourth-grader, he’d follow older sister Dominique, a 2014 STM grad who later played at Bishops and Douglas College, to the Knights’ gymnasium to watch her play.
“I just loved the environment during Chancellor,” he said of the school’s venerable invitational, which this month had to be cancelled for a second straight year. “Both of my parents knew Mr. Mitchell, and what a great player he was and person he is. So I have always looked forward to joining this team.”
And now that he’s arrived, Tarrence Booker is continuing to learn just how much better he is capable of becoming.
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