Will Devin Booker’s facial hair help the Phoenix Suns win the NBA Draft Lottery?
PHOENIX – The appearance is largely symbolic. Still, it means something when an organization chooses you to represent them on stage at the NBA Draft Lottery.
In recent years for the Phoenix Suns, that person has either been an executive (Lon Babby), former player (Mark West) or current player (Devin Booker, Alex Len and Markieff Morris).
Booker made the trip in 2016 and will do so again this week, joining West as the only repeat representatives in the seven years since the Suns last made the playoffs.
Booker insisted on being at the made-for-TV event.
“I enjoyed it so much last year, so I came to them actually and asked them, ‘can I represent the team?’ They were fine with it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. Like I said, the event last year was great. I enjoyed myself. It’s an experience I want to experience again.”
Currently in position for the No. 2 overall pick, the Suns have a 19.9 percent probability of obtaining the No. 1 selection and a 55.8 percent probability of landing in the top three. The Suns are guaranteed a top-five pick with their best odds (31.8 percent) slotted at No. 4.
The highest the Suns have ever drafted is No. 2 overall, doing so in 1969 when they selected Neal Walk and in 1987 when they selected Armen Gilliam. Since the NBA adopted a lottery system in 1985, the Suns have twice moved up as a result of the lottery, though they have not done so since jumping from No. 7 to No. 2 in 1987 when the team drafted Gilliam.
On Tuesday at the New York Hilton Midtown, Booker will be joined by 11-year-old Suns fan and Special Olympics athlete Noah Smith. And in a nod to the franchise’s upcoming 50th season in 2017-18, Dick Van Arsdale, “The Original Sun”, will be in attendance as well.
Booker is also bringing along his own personal good luck charm.
“My facial hair,” he said. “People didn’t notice last year because I didn’t have quite as much but I’m leaving my facial hair. That’s for our top pick.”
Full disclosure: Booker, who is five months shy of his 21st birthday, is showing more stubble than hair on his face.
“This is all I can get right here,” he explained, smiling.
Regardless of where the Suns end up slotted, they are assured of acquiring a highly talented player when the 2017 NBA Draft is held on June 22. GM Ryan McDonough has called this year’s draft class one of the top two or three he’s seen since being in the league.
Most experts peg Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball as the top-two players on the board with Kansas forward Josh Jackson not too far behind. Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox, Duke forward Jayson Tatum and Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac are also highly regarded.
“Just like Al Davis said, ‘Just win, baby!’” McDonough said, regarding the advice he gave Booker, adding about the Suns’ second-year star: “He continues to represent our franchise well, so once he volunteered we thought it was a pretty easy choice. I know he’s going to come back with a top-five pick, that’s a certainty but if he can come back with hopefully No. 1 or one of the top couple then that would be great.”
The importance of this year’s draft on the Suns future is not lost on Booker.
“Very big,” he said. “We’re at that point where we have veterans, we have young guys and bringing in another top player I think can get us over that edge. We have great veterans around us, we have young players with a lot of experience, so bringing him in there — whoever it is — I just hope they’re ready to work with us.”
— After pushing the Suns to draft his good friend and former Kentucky teammate Tyler Ulis a year ago, Booker was asked if he had his eye on anyone this year.
“Not yet. I need to do a little bit more research,” he said.
That research includes getting to know the player off the court, according to Booker, who added he hopes to be involved in the draft process.
“When we bring in players, can I sit down and talk with them? I don’t want a say so in who we’re drafting or anything like that, that’s not my role. I just want to know what type of players we’re looking at .. because at the end of the day this is to determine all our future,” he said. “Players have a different feel then GMs have a different feel to somebody or an owner has a different feel to somebody, so I just want to sit down and get to know people. I might like more than one person. I mean I’m not going to have a say so, ‘I want you to draft him’ or anything like that, but I’d to participate a little bit in it.”
— Count Booker among those surprised at the recent news Ulis underwent right ankle surgery.
“He didn’t even tell me he was having surgery,” Booker said, his voice rising.
The Suns announced Ulis is expected to return to full basketball activity in approximately 12 weeks, meaning he’ll miss Summer League.
“He’s doing really good. I’ve talked to him,” Booker said. “He’s ready to go. He’ll bounce back. He’ll be fine.”
— Since the season ended, Booker went to Coachella and attended the Kentucky Derby. There was also a trip to Mexico City for an event with Nike.
Still, basketball has always been top of mind.
“I just love basketball, so I’ve already played open gyms a few times,” he said. “I’ve played with ASU kids. I’ve been hopping in with workouts with my friends so whenever someone hits my phone about a workout, I’m there.”
Asked about Summer League, Booker responded: “I don’t think that’s the plan this year. I haven’t been told anything, but if they want me to play, I’ll definitely play.”
— Unfortunately, Booker was unable to visit Kristeena Reiser’s second grade class at John C. Blazier Elementary in Austin, Texas. The students there reached out to Booker via social media after they maintained a 100-percent passing rating in reading all year.
Booker did reward the kids, however, shipping them a box filled with autographs and Suns memorabilia.
“What’s so special about that is that’s in Austin, Texas. I have no relationship to Austin, Texas,” he said. “And that’s where it really hit me that you’re making an impact across the world. I don’t have family there, I don’t have anybody there and some second grade class loved me, so that meant a lot to me.”