Clemson senior Trevor Booker looks to leave a legacy

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:50 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Clemson senior Trevor Booker looks to make the Tigers contenders in the NCAA Tournament.

CLEMSON, S.C. — Devin Booker recalls the frustration of teammate and older brother, Trevor, last weekend after their highly regarded Clemson team got upset in its opening game at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Devin, a Clemson freshman, figured it best to leave big bro alone.

"I can guess how he'd be to lose" at the NCAA tournament, Devin said of Trevor, the Tigers' star forward and the biggest reason why Clemson earned its third straight trip to the NCOs after a decade without any.

Now, Trevor Booker's got one final chance to leave an even bigger legacy before he goes — of NCAA success when the Tigers (21-10) take on Missouri (22-10) in the East Regional at Buffalo, N.Y., on Friday.

"It'll be real big. We haven't gotten that win yet," Booker said. "Just to get one win, it'll be a big chip off my shoulder."

Then again, Booker's shoulders have carried Clemson much of the past four years.

He came to the Tigers in 2007, a young forward who instantly worked himself into the starting lineup among a group of more experienced standouts and averaged better than 10 points a game.

That group took a big surge forward in Booker's sophomore season, reaching the ACC tournament final before falling to North Carolina yet still collecting its first NCAA tournament berth in 10 years. Booker upped both his scoring and rebounding and established himself as one of the league's most dangerous and reliable post players.

In 2009, Booker led the ACC in rebounding and field goal percentage — the first to pull that off since NBA star Tim Duncan at Wake Forest 12 years earlier — and took Clemson to another NCAA tournament.

Each of those seasons, however, ended in disappointment. The Tigers missed the NCAAs in 2007 after a 17-0 start, settling for a run to the NIT finals. Clemson dropped its NCAA openers the past two seasons, leaving Booker knowing he and the Tigers could've done more.

"We can't really worry too much about the past," point guard Demontez Stitt said. "Right now, we have to look forward."

That's not always so easily done.

Booker took last year's NCAA first-round flameout to Michigan — the Tigers unraveled so badly that Terrence Oglesby was ejected for throwing a deliberate elbow — as hard as anyone. Faced with an end-of-season choice, Booker quickly decided he wanted to return to Clemson for his senior season and a last chance to push the Tigers to that NCAA win.

"Although he probably didn't show, it made him mad," Devin said. "This NCAA tournament, it means a lot to him."

Trevor Booker's never been the rah-rah leader who uses his voice to motivate teammates. Missouri coach Mike Anderson found that out last summer when he worked with Booker in Colorado Springs, Colo., during tryouts for the U.S. team that competed in the World University Games. "He's a quiet guy, but his game speaks for itself," Anderson said.

And it's spoken loudest in some of Clemson's biggest games of the past few years.

Booker notched 21 points and eight rebounds in a 74-47 win over Duke at Littlejohn Coliseum in 2009, the Blue Devils' largest margin of defeat in nearly two decades.

He had nine of his 10 points in the final seven minutes in 62-53 win over ACC power Maryland last January, and went for 19 points and 11 rebounds as the Tigers rallied late to win at Florida State, 53-50 — two victories that likely went a long way to ensuring Clemson's latest NCAA bid.

"He's ready to step his game up," Devin said.

Trevor Booker has a lethal first step and incredible body control when he gets the ball near the basket. If he gets some help from Clemson's outside shooters, Booker can be unstoppable. If the Tigers can't hit jumpers, defenders can put two or three players in the way to harass Clemson's star.

Booker understands he'll have to excel against Missouri no matter how much or how little his teammates contribute.

"Hopefully, we can get this win," Booker says simply, "and keep going from there."

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