Leader-Union Basketball Player of the Year: Booher’s versatility sets him apart

It was a sequence that pretty much summed up Colton Booher’s career.

First, the St. Elmo senior came up with a steal and took the ball the length of the court for a two-handed dunk.

The 6-foot-4 point guard then went airborne once again, this time to vehemently reject an opponent’s feeble attempt at a jumper.

Moments later, Booher grabbed a defensive board and alertly found a teammate downcourt with a baseball pass for an easy transition bucket.

Final tally: one steal, an assist, a block, a rebound and a field goal.

All in the span of 90 seconds.

The outcome: The momentum of Friday night’s 15th Annual Central Illinois All-Star Game completely swung in favor of the National Trail Conference’s all-stars, as Booher spearheaded a 19-0 run that would vanquish an early 26-18 deficit and prove to be the difference in the NTC’s 84-74 win over the Little Illini Conference all-stars.

And none of what occurred during Booher’s game-changing minute-and-a-half showcase at Cumberland High School surprised Eagles coach Greg Feezel as he proudly watched from the stands.

‘When he decides he wants to take over, he can,’ said Feezel as he took in what would wind up being a 15-point MVP performance. ‘That’s what’s been nice about him all along.

‘He’s not the type of kid that’s just going to go out and shoot it all the time,’ added Feezel before pausing- almost on cue – to watch Booher go for his second slam of the game, ‘but I think if he really wanted to, he could just about get to the basket any time he wanted to.’

Or grab a rebound (11.2 rpg). Or set up a teammate (3.9 assists per game). Or make a big play on defense (2 steals per game and 2.5 blocks per game).

Which is why, in a year otherwise dominated by parity across the regional hoops scene, Booher is the no-brainer selection to be The Leader-Union’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

Booher not only proved he can do many things, and do them very well, during his prep school basketball career – he did them well for a long period of time.

In the process, he wound up doing something that nobody has done before.

Prior to this season, no player in the NTC’s long and storied history had made the league’s all-tournament team all four years of his high school career.

Just three players, Booher, fellow SEHS alum Casey Hord and Brownstown’s Curtis Schwarm, managed to make the team three times.

Which made what Booher fourth selection in late January all the more remarkable.

‘I guess, in a way, that’s one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve seen him get,’ said Feezel. ‘You think of the National Trail Conference, and there’s been a lot of talent in that 73 years.’

The significance of the achievement didn’t hit Booher until recently.

‘I was just shooting around the other day, and I started thinking about that,’ Booher said. ‘I realized it’s been going on for, what, 70-some years? I just sat there and was kind of taken by it.’

Granted, there aren’t many players that get to do such things as freshmen. But Booher was no ordinary freshman.

‘When he first started, we didn’t know whether to bring him up right away and play him (at the varsity level), or to let him be a freshman like he should be,’ said Feezel, who was an assistant to current Vandalia coach Kevin Jackson at the time. ‘But it just got more evident every day in practice that he belonged out there on the varsity floor.’

Booher set a goal to break into the Eagles starting lineup by the end of his freshman season. It proved to be too modest, as his JV career lasted all of two games.

Booher was thrown into the varsity fire for the first time against perennial conference power Effingham-St. Anthony, and he was asked to play the point, too boot.

But Booher didn’t blink, and he’s been a fixture in the Eagles’ lineup ever since.

Booher would go on to help the Eagles to a resurgent 18-9 season by averaging 12 points per game and a team-high 3.4 assists.

‘Even as a freshman, he was pretty good,’ Feezel said.

Booher established himself as one of the area’s top players over the next two years, following up his breakthrough freshman campaign with all-NTC and all-EIC seasons his sophomore and junior years.

Booher had the luxury of playing alongside fellow standout Logan Mahon his first three years, but SEHS’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder graduated in 2007.

Fortunately for the Eagles, Booher took it upon himself to step up his game in Mahon’s absence.

‘This year I told him, ‘You need to average a double-double, period,’ in order for us to be good,’ Feezel said. ‘I was wondering (if he could do it), but he went right out there and did what I asked him to do.’

Booher’s numbers went up pretty much across the board during his final season, but it was his improved rebounding that was most esential to the Eagles 19-9 campaign.

Booher grabbed a career-high 11.2 boards per contest, more than three rebounds a game more than he did his junior season.

‘That’s something I knew I’d really have to do,’ Booher said. ‘Logan cleared the boards for us last year. This year, I had to, and I worked on it a lot in practice. And I think I did a lot better job this year rebounding. And I like getting 10 rebounds a game. It feels just as good as getting 20 points a game.’

And despite being the focal point of opposing defenses, Booher also saw his scoring average increase more than two points per game during his final season, as he led the Eagles with a career-high average of 17.2 ppg.

But it wasn’t necessarily how many points Booher scored that was most memorable – it was when he scored them.

Booher was deadly in the clutch, something rival Brownstown knows all too well. He twice hit game-tying shots to force overtime against the Bombers, as the Eagles went on to victory on both occasions thanks to Booher’s heroics.

‘He kind of likes being in the spotlight a little bit,’ Feezel said. ‘Some kids don’t like that. He does, and he hit some big shots for us this year.’

Feezel credits Booher’s propensity for hitting the big shot to a will to win that meets or exceeds his considerable athletic skills.

‘I want players who want to win, that have a competitive attitude out of this world,’ Feezel said. ‘That’s what he’s got.’

Which is why the way the Eagles’ season ended still leaves a bitter taste in Booher’s mouth.

The top-seeded Eagles were upset by the host team in the semifinals of the Dieterich Regional, denying Booher a storybook ending to a career in which he scored 1,591 points and grabbed more than 750 rebounds. Dieterich would go on to win its first-ever regional, leaving the Eagles wondering what could have been.

‘We were on a roll, playing pretty good basketball,’ Booher said. ‘Then we had that week where we missed a couple games because of the snow. We didn’t play a very good game when we came back from that.

‘Then we play Dieterich, and we just weren’t on top of our game. It was like we were asleep most the night, and we couldn’t pull it out.’

Fortunately, Booher will likely have the opportunity to continue playing a game he fell in love with in grade school at the collegiate level. It all started for Booher in YMCA ball in the third grade, right about the time he discovered a cartoon that would come to define him just as much as basketball.

‘I love cartoons, and ‘Scooby Doo’ was always on and one of my favorites,’ said Booher. ‘That’s when my mom started calling me ‘Scooby.’ People just picked up on it, and that’s what people have been calling me ever since.’

As for the appeal of the Hannah-Barbara classic…

‘I really don’t know,’ Booher said. ‘It’s just kind of entertaining. I guess it was the mystery. I always liked to try to figure it out along with them.’

The mystery Booher is trying to solve now: Which sport to play once he gets to college?

‘It’s still up in the air,’ Booher said. ‘I’ve got chances to play both at a couple different schools, but I’m still not sure which one I like better. I really have no idea which one’s my favorite.’

Booher might just try playing a couple sports. As good as he is at basketball, he has also made a name for himself on the baseball diamond; Booher hit 10 home runs in just 20 games last fall.

‘I hope he can find some place where he can play both sports,’ Feezel said. ‘I’d like to see him try that for a while, because I’m not sure what he’s going to be best at.

‘He can hit the snot out of the ball, I know that. And basketball, you have to be fair-sized to be able to play (at the college level). He’s big enough to play.’

One thing is for sure, no matter what the future holds – Booher is one of the best his coach has ever been associated with on the hardwood.

‘I played with a guard that was just as good,’ said Feezel, refering to teammate Kevin Maxey, who played with him on the Eagles’ 1987 fourth-place state team. ‘But I never played with a player Colton’s size that could do what he does.’

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