Competition breeds excellence, but so too does playing with a chip on one’s shoulder.
You get both at Kentucky, which is why the Wildcats have little trouble assembling a top-ranked recruiting class annually under John Calipari. Coming to Kentucky means getting to face some of the world’s best hoops talent on a daily basis in practice.
But getting to this level and being able to keep up with so many other elite players in one gym takes more than just talent. It takes a burning desire to be great, which often comes from motivation to do what no one thinks you can accomplish.
Devin Booker understands this better than most. He chose to come to Kentucky, play with a stacked roster that went 38-1 in college and now has seven players on NBA rosters. That kind of competition helped Booker become a start in college in one year and now in the NBA in just his second season.
"You have to have a chip on your shoulder. Each and every night, you know you’re going to get a team’s best,” Booker said. “I respect everybody who goes to Kentucky. You know that once you sign with Kentucky, the same thing with Duke. You know each and every night it’s going to be a team’s Super Bowl. You’re going to get their best.
“And you’re going to be in the spotlight. If you play bad, people are going to let you know. But if you play good, that’s a good thing also."
Playing with something to prove is what Booker is still doing now in his second season, even though everyone was ready to (rightfully) anoint him a star after his rookie campaign.
“To still prove myself and still win -- well, win,” Booker said of his goals this year. “I know people think last year was a fluke season because of the injuries, and being on a bad team and taking a lot of shots. But I don’t care what anybody says. Just trying to get wins. I know I belong. Just solidifying myself in this league, just knowing I’m a player in this league and I’m a threat on the floor.”
You can’t win at a high level and sustain that success without the motivation to do so. That’s why Booker and many players who come to UK accomplish so much in college and the pros.