NEWBERRY — He’s Notorious and stands out on the basketball court.
Opponents think it’s a nickname, the moniker Notorious, related to his prowess on the hardwood, but for the uniquely named Notorious Booker, his first name is his real name, thanks to his parents being a fan of Notorious B.I.G.
His three years on the Newberry High School varsity basketball team have each ended with a trip to a championship game.
The final season ends for Booker with a trip to the North-South All Star game.
He credits his family with helping him stay grounded, humble and working hard.
The youngest of six children, Booker said he learned a lot from his three older brothers and his two older sisters. Brothers Antonio Smith (football, basketball) and Joshua Wright (football) both played at NHS and he said they taught him a lot about basketball.
His parents, Angela and Stanley Booker, instilled a work ethic in him by example in how they work at Wal-mart and Georgia Pacific, respectively.
He also said he was inspired by seeing people around him who fell into a small town trap.
”It’s real hard to grow up around here and see good athletes who have not gone anywhere,” he said.
Notorious dreams of playing in college and wants to use that educational opportunity to set up a lifetime of success on and off the court.
Mid-Carolina players vouch for his hot shooting and scoring abilities because he torched them for at least eight points in under a minute to blow a game wide open at Willie Scott Gymnasium.
That was a highlight of his season but he really valued team success over the attention from that game, he said.
Booker also credits his siblings with helping him stay on the straight and narrow and avoid the temptations of life on the streets.
On the NHS team he found another family and the bond is close knit.
“This team is so close because most of us have been playing together since sixth grade in AAU ball. Last year we played Lake Marion and played tough for a half but fell apart in the second half. This year we really wanted it more and we played a complete game,” he said.
Booker moved between the two guard and three guard spots for Coach Chad Cary. He said early in his career he struggled to adjust to Cary’s system where a lot of players rotate in and out. In time, he found a rhythm and instead of fighting it, he embraced the system.
“I bought in because I wanted to win so bad,” Booker said. “I couldn’t get mad because that would mess up team chemistry.”
He said the underclassmen this year learned a lot from the nine seniors on the squad.
“We gave them a hard time in practice,” he said, “but it was out of love.”
He expected great things from teammates and it seemed as if new ones rose to the occasion to help the team win.
Raquon Davenport was a prime example in the championship game where he heated up and nearly took the game over at one point.
“I knew Raquon had it in him. Something just brought it out of him at the right place and the right time,” Booker said. “The big thing we told the younger guys was not to take the championship opportunity for granted, to play it like it was their last game.”
Relax, coach. We got this.
He also served as a steadying influence during the fourth quarter.
An emphatic Cary threw off his jacket and stomped the floor with around two minutes remaining after a play was showboating too much for his taste.
In the process, he kicked off his shoe and it landed on the court. The point was proven to his guards and Booker knew his coach just needed to relax since the team was up by 30. The players got the message, according to Booker, and kept it straight laced from that point forward to make sure the game stayed in hand.
He likes Cary’s fast paced system that is modeled after the one Newberry College runs.
“The system wears you out and we run a lot in practice but it wears the other team out more,” he said. “We practice hard and work a lot on defensive rotations and slide steps.”
He hopes to slide up to the next level and play basketball in college. Right now Francis Marion is recruiting Booker and he is thankful for that opportunity.
He continues to work out and to work hard in the classroom to do whatever he can to make that goal a reality.
He said English teacher Christina Norris and math teacher Samuel Moore were big influences on him academically and he wants to make his hometown proud.
He prefers Twitter to Facebook, says math is his favorite subject but English is least favorite, enjoys hanging out with friends when he’s not playing ball and says his favorite food is Chinese food, boneless spare ribs and pork fried rice.
Notorious Booker likes rap and hip hop music best, fitting when one thinks of his name, but he also listens to country music sometimes.
Booker said he patterns his game after NBA players Damian Leonard and Kevin Durant. He said he’s not related to NBA player Trevor Booker, also a Newberry native.
He hopes to play at the next level and then to see where life takes him.
For now he’s focused on the March 22 tip off at Lexington High School. There he’ll match up against some of the best players in the state and he hopes to leave the Midlands as he did a few weeks ago, as part of a victorious team that makes his home town proud.