When former Kentucky star Devin Booker started his career as a Wildcat, things weren’t as glamorous as some fans might remember. The deadly three-point assassin the Big Blue Nation knows him for actually started his year just 5-20 from the field and an abysmal 1-11 from three. His 2014-15 squad was (obviously) pulling off victories, but Booker hit a cold spell right out of the gates.
Fast forward four years, and current Wildcat guard Tyler Herro, who grew up idolizing Booker, found himself in a similar rut to start the season.
Through his first two games at Kentucky, Herro shot just 4-17 (24 percent) from the field and 1-8 (12.5 percent) from beyond the arc. He finished with 14 points in the season-opener, but many of those made baskets came late in the game when the outcome was already decided. When the game was still in reach, Herro was unable to create his own shot and looked extremely uncomfortable. An 0-6 performance in game two against Southern Illinois indicates things weren’t any better against lesser competition.
Right when the noise on social media grew louder, the 6-foot-5 freshman found a way to break out of his funk and silence the critics.
Herro finished Kentucky’s 96-58 victory over North Dakota with a season-high 18 points on 7-12 shooting and 1-2 from three. He also added a rebound, three assists, five steals, and converted each of his three free throw attempts.
It was a made two-point jumper at the 18:30 mark in the first half that sparked Herro’s confidence for the remainder of the game.
“Just seeing that first shot I shot go through,” he said. “I knew coming in, obviously, whatever I was shooting. I was thinking in my mind I needed to get something easy at the basket, see something fall, so I could get that confidence and exhale.”
The breakthrough wasn’t a surprise, but he was certainly happy to finally put on a performance he was proud of.
“It felt good, I knew it’d come eventually,” he said. “I see a lot of people freaking out that I haven’t made a shot yet, but I miss shots all the time, so it’s fine.”
So what worked for Herro on Wednesday night that didn’t in his first two outings?
“Tonight, being active on defense, not relying on my shot, more so start defense and play with the game,” Herro said. “I was playing with the flow of the game, not forcing anything.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari agrees. He knew his star shooting guard was rolling, and didn’t want to say anything to get him off his game. His efforts on defense translated to easy offense.
“When you get it going good, don’t say anything, just keep playing and ride it,” he said. “Because you say something or do something or try to change what’s going good, it goes the way real fast and then you’re back to where you were, 0-6 and can’t make a play and so. But he did better. He’s defending better.”
Herro acknowledged he heard the noise on social media during his slump, along with his friends and family also teasing him a bit about his rough start.
“I’ve seen a lot of people on social media,” he said. “Friends are just telling me, we just kind of laugh about it. … My dad was stressed out, he’s always freaking out when I’m not making shots.”
Even when the production slipped a bit, the confidence never did.
“I just have to stay confident,” he said. “If I don’t believe in myself, no one is going to believe in me.”
A reporter asked the Wisconsin native if he knew about Booker’s poor start and just how quickly he was able to bounce back.
“Yeah, hopefully I can be like him,” Herro said with a smirk.
I want to be like Devin Booker. https://t.co/NDrTFFHETK
— Tyler Herro (@raf_tyler) April 5, 2017
Booker returned the love over a year later, giving Herro a piece of advice and said he was excited to see him in action this season:
— Devin Booker (@DevinBook) July 31, 2018
I don’t think Kentucky fans would mind Herro following in Booker’s footsteps in the slightest.