LANGLEY — It was the kind of moment that a kid named Booker (T. Book to his friends) has learned to read all too well over the course of his high school basketball career.
On Sunday afternoon, as the Fraser North Triple-A senior boys basketball championship game wound its way to what everyone at the Langley Events Centre knew would be a dramatic finish, there was St. Thomas More point guard Tarrence Booker, ball in hand, ready to make the kind of play that veterans make when the calendar turns to March.
Locked in a tense battle for the zone’s lone guaranteed berth to the provincial championships and matched against cross-city rival Byrne Creek, the Knights were leading 61-58 with just under 90 seconds remaining.
Full context told you this was a vital possession.
Byrne Creek’s Bulldogs, led by the play of guards Mamadee Jawara and Atawa Baraba, were riding the wave of a 7-2 run, and with the clock ready to become its foe, Booker needed to be cognizant that from his team’s perspective, this was a possession that could not be frittered away.
“He drove the lane, and then he dumped it off to Evan Wang, and that was a huge lay-up for us,” said STM head coach Aaron Mitchell when asked afterwards about the most memorable play that Booker made in an eventual 67-62 win.
“That play gave us the cushion we needed (at 63-58), and that was Tarrence, trusting his teammates and making the right play because the help-side (defence) came to him.”
Yet if someone sent Booker a video clip of that play, there’s little doubt the humble guard would just keep it to himself, because it is hard to find, in this day and age, a player of his skill level who is simply not into self promotion.
After all, what’s not to celebrate about finishing your day with a game high 24-points, 16 free throw trips, and a much-deserved Fraser North Triple-A MVP award?
STM’s Mitchell puts it a little more succinctly.
“First off, I think Tarrence Booker is probably the most slept on player in the province,” began Mitchell of the 6-foot-2 Booker, who has averaged 21 points and seven assists per game on the season.
“I know I am completely biased, but the guy has worked his tail off and and I can tell you who Tarrence was in Grade 8 to who he is now, and he has earned all that has come with this.”
That’s Mitchell’s way of saying that Booker has come from that sizeable segment of basketball players in the graduating Class of ’23… the ones who flashed potential at a much earlier age.
“You knew there was some potential there, but ‘potential’ is a dangerous word because somtimes it taps out,” Mitchell adds with the wisdom of a veteran coach. “But he’s in the gym every day at 7 (a.m.) with (teammates like) Timmy (Gonzalez) and Chris (Ainsley).”
And if there is no doubting the level of player and teammate Booker is, what about the other side?
In an age where the NCAA’s NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) has meant a financial boon for many college athletes, those high schoolers pointed firmly in the same direction have truly become social media savants by the time they don cap and gown to finish their Grade 12 year.
So what kind of promotional social media platform has a player of Tarrence Booker’s immense skills devised for himself?
“I still use Instagram and all of that,” he admitted on Sunday. “But I don’t post as much as others do.”
That’s putting it mildly.
What star high school teen student-athlete goes through the trouble of opening an Instagram account and then uses it to make one post?
Yes, it’s a clip of himself playing basketball, and while there is no verification here, he probably did it just to see if he could figure out how Instagram really works.
“Social media does’t really equate to how good a player really is,” Booker continued. “How much media coverage they get doesn’t really show it. So I have never been worried about how many followers I have.”
It’s part of the reason STM coach Mitchell has described Booker as “an old school soul,” and to the university and college basketball personnel still wondering if there is gold to be had this late on the recruiting trail, a read of this story might help to make sense of why, perhaps due to his own lack of promotion, that he remains unsigned for next season.
Mitchell takes pride in saying that not all kids are consummed by their daily social media rituals.
“We talk about this stuff with the kids… about taking pride in who they are and getting satisfaction from their own personal stuff and not what’s out there,” the coach continues. “It’s a challenging world for these kids. I feel bad for them. They are always comparing themselves to each other, and it’s our job as coaches and educators to have them on line and educate them about it.”
All of that is a roundabout way to telling the story of a special student-athlete.
“He is a bit of an old-school soul,” Mitchell confirms of Booker, whose mom Michelle Booker (née McKenzie) played at Simon Fraser, and whose dad Anthony spent a season with the Aggies at Texas A&M in the late-1980s. “And I’m glad he could play today on this stage, and for him to get his shine, because he deserves it.”
All of this begs an interesting question: Is it Booker’s lack of self-promotion that has him, as his own head coach describes “…probably the most slept-on player in the province” or have the coaches looking for talent simply grown too on-line reliant on the very self-promotion to which we speak?
Who knows. Who cares.
All we can say is that there’s a pretty good player wearing No. 1 and donning the red-and-white of the St. Thomas More Knights.
And when the senior boys provincials start March 1 at the Langley Events Centre, he’s going to be pretty hard to miss.
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