BOOK IT!

Senior Xavier Booker, a top five recruit nationwide, will look to lead the men’s basketball team to another State Championship this season.

Luke Spencer, Managing Editor/Sports Editor

In 2019, when Xavier Booker was a freshman, he appeared in just five games for the men’s basketball team and averaged only 1.6 points per game. He was not on the radar of any colleges, not ranked on any recruiting websites. 

Nearly three years later, Booker is a senior, one of the key returning members of the team that won the program’s first State Championship since 1998 last season. And he is no longer unknown as a recruit. A consensus top five prospect across every recruiting website, Booker is a household name in the college basketball community. ESPN has him rated as the third best player in the country for the class of 2023, as does 247 Sports, while Rivals has him rated first. 

So what happened? What caused this massive jump up the rankings that made Booker such a coveted prospect going into the summer Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) circuit? Head Coach Mr. Jason Delaney witnessed Booker’s rise first hand. He said, “He continued to work hard, he continued to be coachable, he continued to believe in the process and it paid off for him.”

Senior Xavier Booker walks off the bus and into Gainbridge Fieldhouse prior to the IHSAA State Championship game on March 26, 2022. The team beat Chesterton 65-31 (Cathedral Basketball Twitter)

This process has caused Booker to develop a unique skill set that few in the world possess. Listed at 6’10 since his freshman year, he has always possessed the ideal height for a Division I forward/center. But he has bulked up since then, getting up to 215 pounds.

With this physical development came new skills that made Booker such a coveted recruit. Delaney said, “He’s able to do a lot of things at his size that not a lot of people can do. He’s able to handle the basketball. He’s able to make good decisions with his passing, he’s a willing passer. He’s able to knock down the three of course and I think what he’s improving on the most is being able to guard multiple positions.” 

Booker’s versatility was a huge asset for the team last year, as Booker was able to bring the ball up the court and function as the primary ball handler at times, which created mismatches when he was guarded by bigger, slower defenders. He was also able to stretch the floor, connecting on 36% of his three point attempts while also being a presence inside, collecting 70 blocks and over 200 rebounds. 

After winning the State Championship in March, Booker shifted his focus to AAU. He attended the USA Basketball FIBA Americas training camp alongside some of the most highly touted players in the nation. Booker believes that this camp helped his recruitment a lot. He said, “I think the second day (of the camp) college coaches were able to come out. I think I got two offers that day. I got one from Duke and then Texas. So it definitely helped a lot playing with older guys and playing with more people on my skill level.”

Booker had around 15 offers prior to the camp and the beginning of the AAU season, the biggest of which was from the reigning National Champion Kansas Jayhawks. Once the AAU season picked up, however, even more offers started to flood in. 

Booker competed for George Hill All Indy, a team sponsored by Milwaukee Bucks guard and Indianapolis native George Hill. His team competed in tournaments across the country in front of coaches from the biggest colleges. “We were in Virginia, Dallas, Atlanta, Milwaukee, lots of big places.” 

As Booker dominated in the AAU circuit, even more schools began to take notice. He picked up offers from Oregon, Auburn, Memphis, Gonzaga and USC all in the month of June. 

With over 30 different schools to choose from, Booker began to narrow down his recruitment, releasing his top ten schools on July 25. This list included schools that had been recruiting Booker since before his junior season. 

Oregon, Purdue, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Auburn, Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana were the final ten. Booker said, regarding these schools, “The relationships that I had with (the 10 schools). They all just were consistent. I like a consistent relationship. I pretty much heard from them every other day or everyday. And those were schools I felt like I would fit in pretty well in their program.”

Just five days later, on July 30, Booker announced his commitment on an Instagram Live with ESPN Recruiting Consultor Paul Biancardi. His choice was Michigan State, who offered Booker a scholarship on Sept. 14, 2021. 

For Booker, there was a lot to like about Michigan State. He said, “(The campus) is not too big, but it’s a good size. Definitely I want to get into sports broadcasting there, so they have a good sports broadcasting program. And the basketball program, I definitely fit in there. I love (Head) Coach (Tom) Izzo, love all of the coaching staff. They compared me to (former Park Tudor and Michigan State and current Memphis Grizzlies forward) Jaren Jackson a lot, and I see that fit there for sure.”

Xavier Booker listens to instructions with fellow seniors Sincere Germany (left) and Jake Davis (right) at an offseason practice on April 14, 2022

With his big decision out of the way, Booker can fully focus on winning another State Championship. It will be a tough road for the team to get back to Gainbridge Fieldhouse in March, but Delaney is making sure the team is tested in the regular season, so the players will be used to the competition when the Sectional comes around. Delaney said, “It’ll be the hardest schedule that we’ve had. We’ve worked to get to this level. One being the defending State Champs and two, having players of (Booker’s) caliber. You’re going to get opportunities.” 

According to Delaney, the program is working with ESPN in hopes of scheduling a game this season, likely against a national powerhouse, that would be featured on ESPN. This would be a national stage few on the team have experienced. However, Delaney does not think that this would affect the team. He said, “Xavier makes (the spotlight) really easy to deal with because he’s such a humble person. He’s just one of the guys. I think the way he approaches things will make it pretty easy for the rest of his teammates.”

Delaney expects Booker, as a senior and returning starter, to step up as a leader on the team. He said, “You expect him to be more vocal. That’s not really his strong suit, you know, he’s a quiet guy. But I have at times seen him lead more and now he’s leading through actions as well. Finishing first in sprints and things like that. He’s really putting the action behind his leadership.”

Xavier Booker warms up before a game against Ben Davis on Feb. 18, 2022. Booker would score 14 points and grab 4 rebounds in a 67-64 loss. (Cathedral Twitter Account)

Booker believes that he is ready for this leadership role, and he knows what he needs to do. He said, “Just continue to guide the younger guys. We have a lot of young guys on our team, so just continue to have their backs.” 

Booker will likely have to take on a bigger role both offensively and defensively. With the losses of point guard and leading scorer Tayshaun Comer and starting forward Jaxon Edwards, Booker will likely be looked to as the primary scoring option this year. In some cases, he will probably be asked to guard the team’s best offensive player, a task that Edwards took last season. 

Booker is ready for everything that will be thrown at him this year, and he is already laser focused on the goals he wants to achieve, saying, “My approach is still the same. We’re still going to go for another State ring, and I’m still focused on getting stronger and preparing myself for college.”