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The Rafters, Class of 2012: Melvin Booker

Fittingly, the Rafters Class of 2012 is a four-guard lineup. Here's your point guard.

Melvin Booker (1990-94)

1990-91: 8.3 PPG, 3.5 APG, 2.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG
1991-92: 11.6 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG
1992-93: 15.8 PPG, 3.7 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG
1993-94: 18.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG

Little fanfare accompanied Melvin Booker’s arrival in Columbia. Norm Stewart discovered the unassuming point guard from Moss Point, Mississippi, while recruiting a more heralded peer. Good thing he did, because Booker spent the next four years maximizing his ability as well as any player in the Stewart era. A starter as a freshman, Booker deferred to Doug Smith and Anthony Peeler on the court. But he began to come into his own as a sophomore, averaging 11.6 points and 3.9 assists. With Peeler’s departure after the 1991-92 season, Booker assumed leadership of the team. His 15.8 points per game led the club in his All-Big Eight junior season. But it was Booker’s remarkable senior season that sealed his place among Mizzou’s all-time greats. His averages of 18.1 points and 4.5 assists per game do not begin to tell the story. On his way to becoming the Big Eight Player of the Year and a second team All-American, Melvin Booker imposed his will on each game, hitting every clutch shot in a season that saw the Tigers go a perfect 14-0 in the Big Eight and advance to within one game of the Final Four. Though his career began in virtual anonymity, it ended with Booker ranking among the greats in Missouri Tiger history.

The first time I ever saw Missouri play in person, I left with two favorite players: Mark Atkins, whose seven no-conscience 3-pointers staked Missouri to a 104-94 win at Oklahoma on February 5, 1994, and Melvin Booker, who smoothly guided the ship in the most hostile of environments. He both scored 18 points and took a backseat to hot teammates like Atkins, Jevon Crudup (25 points, 15 rebounds) and Paul O'Liney (20 points).

At that point in the season, Missouri was still a bit of a question mark. They had not lost in quite a while, but they were ranked just 20th in the country, and they were not yet halfway through their undefeated run through the Big 8. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from them, but they blew me away with their confidence, their explosiveness, and their cool under pressure. Tied at 89-89 with just over two minutes left, Mizzou went on a 13-0 run, sparked by an Atkins 3 and some Booker free throws.

In many ways, Booker's storied career as a Tiger mirrored two other recent Mizzou greats: Marcus Denmon ... and Brad Smith. Like Denmon, Booker let the game come to him, absorbed every lesson he learned, and turned into an incredible leader over his final two seasons. Like Smith, his impact-to-fanfare ratio was incredible. At a time when Mizzou was bringing in blue-chippers like Doug Smith and Anthony Peeler, Booker, who would almost certainly have been a two-star recruit had Rivals existed in 1990, allowed Mizzou to thrive when both stars (and others) had left. The photo above is one of the most famous in Missouri's basketball history, and there is no more deserving a star than Booker to have been in it.