NBA.com’s Joey Ramirez published a story this weekend highlighting the lasting friendship between former Kentucky guard Devin Booker and Louisville native D’Angelo Russell as their basketball careers continue to elevate on similar trajectories.
Booker and Russell initially met five years ago at a Nike Elite 100 Camp, where they were heralded among the best high school basketball players in the nation. In 2012, they were part of a group of high schoolers who watched the USA Basketball Men’s National Team practice from court side in Las Vegas before earning an Olympic gold medal in London that summer. Now, the tandem reunite in Sin City with “USA” sprawled across their chests and compete against some of the same players they watched practice just a short time ago.
“‘When we were here four years ago, we always knew that we’d be in this situation,’ Booker said. ‘Obviously I didn’t know it’d be this early, but we’re blessed and fortunate enough of the opportunity.’
Booker was just 15 at the time, but both he and Russell, then-16, were confident that they would someday be playing against the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, whom they watched with awe that day.
‘It was unbelievable just seeing the level they were on,’ Booker said. ‘I couldn’t imagine just playing against them. Now it’s crazy that I got the chance to play against Kobe and LeBron and everybody like that.'”
Russell began his playing career at Louisville’s Central High School before transferring to Montverde Academy in Florida. Booker got his start at Grandville High School in Michigan, but graduated from Moss Point High School in Mississippi. As five-star recruits and McDonald’s All-Americans, the two would ultimately spend just one year in college apiece. Russell played at Ohio State, while Booker was part of Kentucky’s historic 38-1 Final Four campaign. Both players were 2015 NBA Draft lottery picks, as Russell was selected second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers and Booker fell to the Phoenix Suns at No. 13. The duo earned NBA All-Rookie honors, with Booker on the first team and Russell on the second.
“‘Now it’s definitely bigger than basketball between us,’ Booker said. ‘We’ve done vacations together. I know his brothers, his family. I know his mind. It’s a friendship that’ll last forever.’
Keeping in contact is obviously easier in the age of social media and cell phones, but it also helps that Russell and Booker remained on parallel paths from coveted high school prospects to lottery picks to key members of the NBA’s future.
‘I feel like we’re similar people,’ Russell said. ‘Our input, our opinions, the way we go about our business, our dedication – I feel like we’re similar. So it’s easy to cope with a guy like that and just grow with him.'”