PHOENIX -- Devin Booker was a few weeks past his 19th birthday when he joined the Phoenix Suns starting lineup. A season-ending injury to fellow guard Eric Bledsoe in December pushed Booker into a larger role.
Now, three months away from his 20th birthday, he is more vocal and a leader this offseason.
"I had to mature really quick," Booker said. "I'm in a grown man's world and I am looked at as an icon and a role model in a lot of communities. I have to carry myself that way. Life has changed a lot. It's the best thing I have ever asked for so I'm blessed to be in this situation. "
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In his rookie year, Booker started in 51 games, averaged 13.8 points and 2.6 assists per game and was selected to the 2016 NBA All-Rookie team. The young guard said he was challenged by being put into the starting roster as rookie, but used it as a learning opportunity.
"Last year due to injury, I was thrown into the fire so I got the chance to experience a lot things that a lot of rookies don't," Booker said. "I think that leadership role grew on me when I had the ball in my hands when I was put into that scoring role last year."
Phoenix coach Earl Watson, who was also thrust into a larger role last year when he was named interim head coach in February following the firing of Jeff Hornacek, said Booker has matured physically in a year and could become a leader in the locker room.
"Leadership is a thing you have to earn within your peers," Watson said. "It comes from effort, it comes from being vocal and it comes from just a presence. Eventually, he can be and we have leaders already who are little bit more mature than him so it's a great situation when you have multiple leaders."
One player who got to see Booker as an opponent was new teammate and returning Suns shooting guard Leandro Barbosa. Barbosa played for the rival Golden State Warriors last season and in four wins over the Suns saw Booker average 9.75 points and three assists per game. Back with the team for a third time, Barbosa said he is thrilled to join Booker and thinks he can do more this upcoming season.
"I think he is a great shooter, unbelievable shooter and I definitely can compare him to Klay Thompson," Barbosa said. "He is up there but I think he can definitely go more to the hoop. I don't see him going to the hoop very much, but when he goes, he doesn't really finish the way he's supposed to. But, he's young, he's got time on his career and I'm going to try to help him."
Booker was able to bring his skill and passion to the 2016 NBA Summer League games in Las Vegas. In the two games, he averaged 26 points and 6.5 assists per game. He only played two games because Suns general manager Ryan McDonough wanted him to be ready for perform for the USA Men's Select team. The Suns general manager said he has seen the young man develop as a basketball player.
"Devin's really developed quickly," McDonough said. "From the end of last year even until now, you saw in summer league that his ball handling has improved, he's running pick and rolls and he's finding guys."
Booker was one of 25 players selected to the U.S. Select team that will help prepare the Olympic team for the upcoming Games. He said he is going to give his all in the practices against the USA Men's team to help them prepare for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
"Every time I am out there I am playing against the best players in the league," Booker said. "Every time I am out there, I just see how I match up with them and hopefully I can be on an Olympic team four years from now."