Russia: Booker Ready For St Petersburg Challenge

26.04.2005

By Soriebah Kajue, PA International

BC Khimki's Melvin Booker must be the most laid back player in the FIBA Europe League this year.

With an impending Final Four match up against the awesome Russian outfit St Petersburg only one day away - his ice cool veneer has yet to be breached.

"It's only a game of basketball," he says to PA International.

The key for us will be defence - defence wins championships
Melvin Booker

But Melvin, surely the nerves are beginning to bite a little, right?

"There isn't any pressure to perform, it's just basketball," he says.

"You're either going to make the shot - or miss the shot. It's not like any life or death situation, that's just the way I take all my games. I play the way I know how to play - there's no added pressure."

Whatever the demeanor, Booker is usually bad news for Khimki's opponents.

In a game against Strasbourg back on January 11, he dropped 35 points on the Alsatians, and Khimki rolled to a 109-88 triumph.

Sometimes the point guard doesn't score a lot of points, but he does other things exceptionally well.

In the quarter-final decider against UNICS Kazan, for example, he had 13 points and also pulled down 11 rebounds.

Even as the stakes get higher, he stays cool.

"The occasion won't get to me," he says.

"There's no pressure to play a certain way, I'll just play the way I know how to play."

The Dynamo St Petersburg juggernaut

Rest assured, come April 27 there will be a sense of urgency for everyone in Khimki's lineup.

David Blatt has built a powerhouse in Dynamo St Petersburg. They have not lost all season in the FIBA Europe League.

Their guards are extremely cool, too. Ed Cota and Jon Stefansson are a two-headed monster because of their exceptional ball-handling and scoring ability.

Dynamo lead the FIBA Europe League in scoring at 90.6 points per game - three more than Khimki.

Defensively they are sound.

"We're all going to have to be at the top of our game against St Petersburg," Booker says.

"Because we're playing a team that knows how we play, so we're all going to have to be at the top of our game, because St Petersburg score a lot of points. I think if we keep them under 80 points, we can win the game."

Melvin Booker (left - BC Khimki) and Aymeric Jeanneau (Strasbourg)
Melvin Booker
Dynamo will know that they must keep tabs on Booker, too, as he has been in coruscating form this season.

The Mississippi native is at the heartbeat of his team.

He also has big-game experience, having played for Golden State in the NBA. Last season, he turned out for Turkish giants Ulker Istanbul.

"For sure the experience is going to help," he says. "Playing in high level teams helps a lot. You know experience is the key and it's going to be very exciting.

"If you look at every team in the Final Four, they all have a good playmaker."

Dynamo and Khimki played out a dress rehearsal in the Russian league recently, but Booker says that result will have no effect on the Final Four contest.

"It will be a difficult game because we just played those guys 10 days ago, and they beat us 91-85 in the Russian league. It's going to be difficult but it's going to be a good game.

"They have a lot of great players but I think the key for us will be defence - defence wins championships.

"I think we must maintain our defence and try and stop their best players from having a great game, and see what happens from there."

Khimki have been able to beat the best, though. UNICS were the defending champions in the competition.

Booker admits it was a real battle getting past UNICS and their dynamic 21.1 point scoring guard Shammond Williams.

"Our toughest opponents in getting to the final four were UNICS Kazan," he says.

"We played them in the play-offs and that was a very difficult game.

"We were familiar with them and they were familiar with us, because we're in the same league."

Both sides are in the Superleague.

"That was a very difficult series, but also a great series not only for me but for Khimki," Booker says.

"Shammond Williams is the best I played against this year, although I never really had to guard him. He's the guy that gave us the most difficulties this season."

The seasoned veteran

Booker has played in Italy and Turkey, where he won two Turkish Cups and played in the Euroleague.

He also feels the Russian Superleague could soon become on of Europe's premier basketball competitions, as the western influence permeates the game.

"It's my first year here in it and it's a very, very difficult league, because there a lot of great foreign and American players playing here - especially in the playmaker position.

"If you look, almost every team has an American playmaker, but the league itself is very strong and you can tell by all the Russian teams that competed in the European competitions this season."

Booker's achievements in Europe have been tempered by the fact his eight-year-old son Devon is back in America and unable to witness his Dad's triumphs.

However, the former Golden State Warrior makes sure his son is always with him in spirit.

"I have my son's name tattooed on my chest, his name is Devon," Booker said.

"That's my heart, that's my man, that's what I live for everyday to provide for my son.

"I'm very disappointed he's not able to see me play that much, but at the same time he understands.

"I'm over here working and providing for him and hopefully when I'm done, we can enjoy life together.

"I got a job where I'm getting paid to do something I love, and I love playing basketball."


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