From island to mainland, Booker can play

J. Patrick Eaken

        Oak Harbor junior guard Blake Booker grew up on South Bass Island, playing basketball for Put-In-Bay his freshman year.
        He moved to the mainland and joined the Oak Harbor squad his sophomore year, having to sit out half the season. Put-In-Bay is an Ohio High School Athletic Association member, but does not often compete with member schools, but still the rule qualifies.
        Doesn’t matter now, Booker is playing a major role with the Rockets, who are 10-3 overall and 4-2 in the Sandusky Bay Conference Bay Division heading into last weekend’s play.
        Booker is averaging 11.5 points per game and leads the Bay Division in shooting from the field, but he’s also improved his play defensively and became a top rebounder for the Rockets, even though he stands just 5-foot-10.
        “We knew he was a great shooter coming into the season and that was something we were looking forward to having all season long. Currently this year, he’s shooting 48 percent (31 for 64) for us, which is a knock-down season for us,” Oak Harbor coach Eric Sweet said.
        “But the best thing the last two years is his defense has really turned up for us. He’s a shooter for us, and he’s our deep threat, but defensively he’s really turned his game up for us and he’s helped us out a ton on the defensive end.
        “But his major role is to catch the ball and fire it for threes, and he does a great job with it. Every time he shoots the ball for us, I feel like he’s going to make the shot. That’s his major role for us, but the biggest thing I’ve loved is his growth on the defensive end.”
        Booker said he grew up on the island “firing away” at the hoop.
        “You ask him where his shot comes from, and I watch these kids in the gym fire up 500 shots from the gun, and it’s just whoosh, going through the net over and over again. He’s worked his tail off to have that stroke and it’s something we use and it’s an asset to the program and to the team,” Sweet said. “He was shooting the same way last year. He was up in the 50s (percent) for us last year, and he ended up at 47 percent.”
        Booker credits the Rockets’ leading scorer, 5-10 senior guard Jac Alexander with dishing the basketball. Meanwhile, he’s been working at the other aspects of his game.
        “Jac is great at taking care of the ball and looking for shooters and looking for me when I’m open, and he takes his share of it. I got to like drift away from where he’s going and sometimes he’s facing a double team,” Booker said. “But yeah, I’ve been working on defense and I’ve been working hard on that since last year.”
        Booker says he’s noticed that defenses have figured out that he’s a “shooter,” so it’s no secret anymore. Sweet doesn’t mind.
        “We’ve definitely seen teams start to face-guard him more and be up into him. We actually saw for the first time this year a box-and-one wasn’t on Jac, they played it on Blake instead,” Sweet said.
        “That was a different situation, but we have a lot of things we run through him based on his shooting ability and we’re constantly looking for screens for him because not only is he a great set shooter but he can catch it off the run and get turned and get his hands and feet ready and makes his shots when we need him to.”
        Also, if an opponent goes into a zone, Booker becomes the man to go to.
        “The majority of our zone stuff goes through Blake because he’s our shooter. Being against zones, we definitely want him as our set shooter and ready to go. We run him off some screens and we have a lot of plays that go for him,” Sweet said.
        Booker hasn’t got the game-winning buzzer-beater yet because the opportunity hasn’t arisen, but if you ask Booker or his coach, they consider all of his shots game-winners.
        “I don’t think Blake has felt that he’s made some big shots because there has been no game-winners, but there has been many times where we have been in a drought and we’ve looked for that shot or that bucket to get going. Jac would attack and Blake has his hands and feet ready, and he hits it,” Sweet said.
        “There have been many times that I have taken a deep breath as a coach and then off of a sudden I’m watching the play develop, and I’m going, ‘OK, there it is,’ and he makes it and gets back and plays defense like he normally does. But as a coach on the sideline, there is a great sense of trust there that he is able to make that shot anytime when we need him to.”
        Last year, sitting out half the season was not easy for Booker, and strange because he did not transfer from a school that has a high varsity basketball profile. Put-in-Bay doesn’t compete in sectional tournaments, although they could.
        “It was a goofy situation. We felt bad for Blake and he did everything we could to try and do some things for him. But it didn’t work out,” Sweet said.
        “He’s worked his tail off to have the great season he’s having. He’s bringing a lot to the program and I’m happy to have him for another year after this year, but this year’s he’s really doing a ton of great things for us.”


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