(This story originally appeared in the Nov. 29 print edition of the Manchester Times)
Demarco Moore, Sports Writer
MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Coffee County Central High School senior Garrett Booth stood in front of Andrew Mahaffey near the home sideline inside Joe Frank Patch Memorial Gym. Booth was offering words of encouragement in the closing moments of an intense third quarter against Grundy County on Nov. 20.
Meanwhile, A.J. Rollman was at the other end of the floor attempting a pair of free throws after being intentionally fouled.
The Red Raiders were leading the YellowJackets 47-32 in what turned out to be a 73-50 win, and Booth wanted to make sure his teammate understood the situation.
“Grundy was playing cheap, and that doesn’t surprise anybody that has watched them play in the past,” said Booth before the Red Raiders practiced this past Monday.
“All they’re trying to do is get in your head, and if you let them – if you try to fight back, then they won. And all I did was just calm him down and tell him ‘hey, check up, calm down and tell me what you feel. Don’t tell them.”
It was an assist that won’t count on the stat sheet, but it goes a long way in describing one of the many ways in which the 5-foot, 6-inch point guard plays one of the biggest roles for the Red Raider basketball team.
Booth is the team’s floor general, helping to distribute the basketball by finding the open man with an easy bounce pass or creating a scoring opportunity.
“Garrett opens up the floor for everybody else,” said senior Russell Smythia. “Not just the fact that he can see everybody getting open, [but] he can drive and get you open and then give you ball.”
Whether you play the game behind the 3-point line like junior Darius Rozier, or inside the paint like Harley Hinshaw, Booth is determined to get you the ball – even it looks like he’s not looking at you at all.
“He’s honestly one of the best passers I know,” said Rozier, who has averaged 15.5 points for the Red Raiders in their first four games. “He has some vision that I don’t see [people getting open], but he sees it somehow. I like having a point guard like that.”
“I’ve always been told ‘don’t stare your guy down,’” Booth said, explaining his on-court vision. “You have to act like you’re not [about to] pass it. You have to see them two-to-three seconds before making that cut, and you try to get to a better position to make that pass.”
But if you’re not paying attention, you could catch a pass right off the chin. Just ask Grey Riddle.
“I remember going all the way back to sixth grade,” Riddle said. “[In the post] you’ve always gotta’ watch out, because if he’s driving in the lane [the defender] will be looking up ready for him to shoot. He’ll behind-the-back pass, or something. He’ll hit them right in the mouth.”
It’s certainly a unique perspective from those who have been playing with Booth for years. It’s even more impressive to see it in person. Booth took over the Grundy County game, scoring 25 points in three quarters and adding three assists and two steals.
“Here’s the thing: my team wasn’t scoring, so I felt like I had to step up,” he said. “Some nights I’m gonna’ score 25. Some nights I’m gonna’ score two, but if we win, that’s all I’m worried about.”
If you ask him, Booth is a traditional pass-first point guard, applying the John Stockton method of stuffing the stat sheet on game night.
“[John Stockton] felt like assists were points to him, and I’m like that too,” Booth said of the NBA legend who also happens to be his all-time favorite point guard.
“People are out trying to score 30 points, and for me, if I get 10 assists that’s like 30 points.”
Personal goals sound like team goals coming from Booth, but they all lead back to one common factor for he and the Red Raiders this season.
“I want to lead this team to a [District 8-AAA] championship. Whatever that takes man, I’m gonna’ do it.”
Reach Demarco Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @iam__demo