By Nikki Treleaven ’11
Any similarity between the Diamond Booker who arrived at Keuka College from the Bronx four years ago and the Diamond Booker who will graduate in two-and-a-half months is purely coincidental.
When he first suited up for the Storm basketball team, Booker was a role player who followed the lead of others. He has transformed into a dominant player who leads others, both on and off the court.
Booker’s career did not get off to an auspicious start. He sat out his freshman season with a groin injury and the following year, like most first-year players, he played a supporting role.
“I was always a role player; I followed the seniors for guidance,” explained Booker.
There is nothing wrong with that and truth be known, Booker made great strides his sophomore season, earning All-NEAC second team honors. The question was would Booker take his game and leadership ability to the next level?
One only need to look at Keuka’s record book to find an answer to part one of that question. The 6-7, 220-pounder ended his senior season ranked No. 2 in both rebounding (680) and blocked shots (132) in Keuka annals. And as for the second part?
“Diamond is a great emotional leader,” said Thad Phillips, who recently concluded his first year as head coach. “He is a great kid who has an infectious personality.”
The Storm struggled in the early part of the 2010-11 season, dropping its first eight games before upsetting St. Lawrence. Keuka was competitive the rest of the way, finishing with a 5-17 record that included a win over SUNY IT, a team that reached the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
Booker keyed the resurgence He averaged 12.8 points per game, second on the team, while leading in rebounding with 9.9 per game, blocks (40), made free throws (86), and field goal percentage (56). He grabbed an impressive 84 offensive rebounds while also passing off 22 assists and collecting 16 steals.
He also recorded 10 double-doubles (double figures in points and rebounds) highlighted by a monster 33-point, 18-rebound game against Cobleskill. He recently was selected to the All-NEAC team for the third year in a row.
Booker gives Phillips a lot of credit for his stellar season.
“Everything I learned this year is because of Coach Phillips,” said Booker. “He pushed me to be better. Coach gave everyone a workout plan for the summer and he encouraged me to be more aggressive.”
He also taught Booker to be more versatile on the court.
“When coach told me there were moves I could do instead of dribbling, I looked at him like he was crazy,” recalled Booker. “He taught me a hook shot and to use my left hand more, especially for lay-ups. In the end, I am a much better player for it.”
The teacher said the pupil deserves most of the credit.
“Diamond constantly works hard on and off the court to improve himself,” said Phillips. “His work ethic is wonderful… phenomenal. He has been great every day and I am blessed to have him. He is a wonderful young man and is going to make a great leader.”
A management major, Booker chose to attend Keuka for a number of reasons.
“Keuka is a calm place,” he explained. “I like the lake and the student-teacher ratio. They make sure you don’t fall through the cracks. It was a good move for me.”
Booker is unsure of his post-graduation plans. As a result of sitting out his freshman year due to injury, he has another year of basketball eligibility. So, there is a chance he could play one more season for the Storm if he elects to pursue a master’s degree at Keuka.
Whether or not he returns, Booker said he has benefitted greatly from the Keuka experience.
“The lessons I learned from Coach Phillips and my time here at Keuka College have made me the man I am today.”