The Book on Askia Booker

The Colorado men’s basketball season came to an end with a 93-85 loss to the Oregon Ducks in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The Buffs, picked to finish third in the conference, limped into the conference tournament as the number 10 seed, and packed their bags after closing out a disappointing 15-17, 7-11 season.

Except the season wasn’t over.

On March 15th, Selection Sunday, 68 teams heard their names called for the NCAA tournament, but Colorado was not in the discussion. CU fans were left that late afternoon to pick through tidbits of information about their football team gleaned from a 52-play Spring Game.

Shortly after the March Madness field was announced, 32 more teams were chosen to participate in the consolation tournament, the NIT.

Colorado was not in the discussion for any of those 32 slots, either.

But then the CBI came calling.

Teams like Hofstra, Rider, Delaware State, Radford and Stony Brook were being invited to play in something called the College Basketball Invitational. Teams which had snubbed by the NIT, teams including California and Oregon State from the Pac-12, said “no, thanks” to the third-tier tournament.

No Power-Five school accepted the invitation.

Except Colorado.

Colorado said, “Yes. We would love to play in the CBI” … the only team in the 16-team field with a losing record. (So yes, out of the 116 teams playing in the NCAA, NIT, and CBI tournaments, CU was the only one invited to continuing playing despite a losing record).

“I just felt as a coach that, if we declined this invitation, the message I’m sending to our players is that I don’t want to compete and I don’t think it’s that important or that big of a deal,” said CU head coach Tad Boyle. “That’s the wrong message to send to this team. This team needs to understand every day is an opportunity to compete, whether that’s in the class room, at practice or a game. We have to learn that we have to relish competitive opportunities”.

But they would do so without their leading scorer and team captain, Askia Booker.

Recalled Boyle of his conversation with Booker after CU accepted the CBI invite: “I said, ‘How are you feeling?’ He said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to play.’ He’s a senior . . . I can’t really comment; that’s something for ‘Ski.’ I respect it and we’ll move on. It is what it is.”

Booker, for his part, went with the youth movement justification for playing in the CBI.

“Coach (Tad) Boyle had basically told me it was going to be my choice if I wanted to play or not,” Booker said. “But, he also told me the reason he was going to accept playing in the CBI was because it was for the younger guys and it was a chance to go into next year with some momentum.

“So, me looking at it from my perspective was that it would be pretty much selfish for me to play. I would be out there and I would want to play 30 minutes a game and compete. If the real reason why (Boyle) is playing is to get some momentum for the younger guys, they need to know what it’s like to play without me.”

The Buffs got their first taste of the post-Booker world in the first round of the CBI, taking out Gardner-Webb, 87-78. Booker was not on hand for the game, while another Buff who is leaving the program, Dustin Thomas, sat on the bench in street clothes.

Much has been said and written about Booker’s decision not to continue playing.

A polarizing figure throughout much of his career, Booker has served as both hero and villain in the eyes of the Buff Nation.

Before we draw any conclusions, let’s look at some of the numbers posted by Booker in his stint at Colorado. The stats book on Booker has been written, and is not up for debate:

– 134 games played … 2nd on the all-time list at Colorado

– 170 three-point field goals … 3rd all-time

– 1,740 career points … 6th all-time

– 155 steals … 8th all-time

– 335 assists … 9th all-time

– Throw in 446 rebounds (31st all-time), and Booker joins Cory Higgins and Donnie Boyce as the only players in Colorado history to reach 1,600 points, 400 rebounds, 300 assists and 150 steals.

– Colorado went 82-52 with Askia Booker in the lineup, the second-highest win total for any Buff in history (Ben Mills, a fan favorite but career bench-rider, graduated last spring having been a part of 93 CU victories).

– Some career highlights … The game-winning 30-footer to upset No. 6 Kansas, 75-72, on December 7, 2013 … A second-team All-Pac-12 selection this season; honorable mention in 2013-14 … 2014 All-Pac-12 tournament team … Three-time Pac-12 Player-of-the-Week award recipient … A career-high (and Pac-12 season-best) 43 points in a triple-overtime win over USC on January 29th … 10th all-time in free-throw percentage (79.2%) … Pac-12 championship in 2012 (first conference for the program since 1969) … three straight NCAA bids (for a program with only two bids between 1969 and 2012).

This season, Booker averaged a team-best 17.2 points per game. He also led the team in minutes played (30.2), field goals (173), three-pointers (55), free throws attempted (157) and made (131), assists (99) and steals (44).

Booker’s totals left him as only the fourth player in school history to lead the team in scoring, assists, and steals in the same season, with last coming courtesy of Chauncey Billups, and that was back in the 1996-97 campaign.

So, is Askia Booker a hero – for all of his accomplishments – or a villain, for how the 2014-15 season played out?

For the detractors of Booker, the decision not to play was just the icing on the cake of a dismal season. Colorado was ranked in some national preseason polls, was a close third in the media’s Pac-12 preseason poll (one vote behind Utah for second), and a consensus lock to make a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

The failure of the Buffs, for better or worse, was largely attributed to the play of their captain, Askia Booker.

Booker, the lone senior on the team, was supposed to be the leader, but the one consistent criticism for the team all season was a lack of leadership. Eight times (eight!) a player was disciplined for being late to a team function.

“Right now there’s a leadership void on this team – and it’s been there all this year,” CU coach Tad Boyle said after the Gardner-Webb game, when asked about continuing on in the CBI in preparation for next season. “It needs to be filled.”

Not making anything easier for the Booker defenders was the praised heaped upon the other Buff leaving the program, Dustin Thomas. Though Thomas has decided to transfer, he has continued to practice with the team, and was praised by Boyle for his loyalty.

“Dustin’s practiced with us,” Boyle said after the Gardner-Webb game. “He’s busted his tail. He’s a part of this program. Dustin’s got great character, he’s got great work-ethic, he’s got great love of his teammates. So, it says a lot about him that he’s there supporting them. I’m really proud of him. Dustin Thomas, I’m going to do whatever I can do to help that young man. I’ve got nothing but love for him. I’m really proud of him.”

The contrast between Boyle’s comments concerning Booker and those concerning Thomas could not be more stark.

All that being said …

We don’t really know what was going on inside the CU locker room this season.

We don’t really know exactly why a season which began with such promise ended in such disharmony.

We don’t really know that Askia Booker failed as a leader of the team, or if that was even a role he could have reasonably been expected to take on just because he was the lone senior.

We do know that Booker’s 17.2 points per game is the seventh-best single season average in CU history.

We do know that, with his fellow top scorers, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson, saddled with injuries, Booker took the team on his shoulders, assuming the role of primary scorer as there were few other realistic options on the roster.

We do know that Booker was a competitor, and gave his all when he was on the court.

“Coach is going to need somebody to lead that team. Why not start now?”, said Booker in defending his decision to not play in the CBI with his teammates. “They need to step it up and learn how to do it with what they have. I think it’s the best way for them to learn and the best way for them to compete. I’d rather them being able to say they did it without me than they did it with me.”

Booker is on pace to graduate in May, with a professional basketball career – either in the NBA or elsewhere – still a possibility. “At the end of the day, I feel I’ve done some great things,” Booker said. “I’ve competed, I brought a lot of energy, a lot of excitement to Colorado. As long as I know I did what I could when I was there, I’ll be happy regardless.”

One final stat to consider:

Colorado has all of eight 20-win seasons in its 114-year history, with three of those coming with Booker a big part of the lineup.

That statistic alone should give Buff fans reason to close the book on Askia Booker’s career with a smile, as well as a heart-felt “thank you”.

Thanks, ‘Ski, for the memories.



4 Replies to “The Book on Booker”

  1. Say what they will when dissecting Ski, I feel he did what he needed to do to help keep the Buffs hopes alive this past season. Injuries to Scott and XJ were almost insurmountable.

    How many teams can compete with PAC-12 talent with one of their primary players and one major player injured ? Not many. It would have been difficult for any team (AZ, UCLA, Utah and Oregon) to have done what they did without 2 of their best on the bench for many of their conference games. (Perhaps AZ is all).

    Kudos to Ski……. no matter what justification the locker-room, poker-club pundits want to spew and point fingers at.

    Really nice objective article and synopsis of Ski’s career Stuart.

  2. Big thanks to Ski! We love you buddy. Best of luck. I Know you are going to succeed at whatever comes next

  3. Excellent article. Obviously not the best year for Booker or for CU. But on a team where the other players often seemed timid (especially Scott and XJ), someone had to take charge, and Booker always “left everything on the court.”

  4. While I understand Booker’s decision to NOT play, as the lone senior captain, I don’t understand why he isn’t supporting the team by being on the bench during the game.

    He was always an enigma, often as likely to hurt the team as help it. One must always remember that he played with three eventual NBA players, which helped tremendously. Not sure what his impact would have been had he played with some of the players we saw before Tad arrived.

    I am glad he came here, but always thought that he was more of a role player than a starter. It was lack of depth that forced him into the PG role, and that was not in his favor. With that,I wish him good luck moving forward.

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