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Freshman Booth fitting into Villanova hoop program

Phil Booth Jr. is taking to the Main Line the lessons he learned from his Philly-native, basketball-playing dad.

Villanova freshman Phil Booth. (C.F. Sanchez/Staff Photographer)
Villanova freshman Phil Booth. (C.F. Sanchez/Staff Photographer)Read more

BEFORE THE endless mornings and afternoons of summer basketball games for AAU athletes, Phil Booth Sr. was thinking differently. He sat in his old car years ago, his budding son beside him as they drove through different parts of Maryland.

The middle-aged Northeast High and Coppin State star dropped off his son at the concrete playgrounds of Owings Mills or Pikesville or even back at his stomping grounds at Coppin State.

Booth Sr. was attempting to mold his son in the ways the late John Hardnett had molded him. The father was trying to shape the next "Philly-tough" guard, even though his family now lived 100 miles from the City of Brotherly Love.

"When he was 13 or 14, it wouldn't be as random, but he would work out with some older guys," Booth Sr. said in a phone interview. "I was letting him take his lumps. He played AAU when he got to high school, but I believe in working on the game and playing pickup, and that's how he came up."

This process worked for Booth Sr. decades ago. Hardnett, a longtime coach and mentor of the Sonny Hill program, helped put him in the same gym with Aaron McKie, Eddie Jones and Doug Overton, to name a few. Booth took his lumps, but eventually helped take Coppin State to its first NCAA Tournament in 1990.

Now, Phil Booth Jr. is ready for the Main Line after spending the summer working out with his new team, the Villanova Wildcats. The 6-2 Baltimore native was the 92nd-rated recruit on ESPN's top 100 list for the Class of 2014.

The 6-2, 170-pound, four-star prospect brings a different element to the Wildcats' roster, composed mainly of undersized guards. Booth Jr., unlike many on the current roster, can guard the perimeter, a trait that led him to be the Baltimore Catholic League's defensive player of the year as a junior at Mount St. Joseph.

That skill should help the Wildcats improve upon last season's three-point defense of 35.3 percent, almost 1 percentage point higher than the national average.

Booth Jr.'s complete game comes from watching tape of his father, as he modeled himself after his pop.

"I just watched the way he played, how hard he played, and how he played unselfishly for his teammates," Booth Jr. said. "He tried not to make it about him and he kept it more off him and about me when I was growing up. He's been with me the whole way, supporting me on and off the court. It's something great to lean on all the time."

Booth's mom, Robin Booth, and sisters Jasmine, 25, and Jessica, 13, attended almost every game of his decorated high school career. Family was important to Booth Jr., so the Villanova staff did what was necessary to make the clan feel welcome.

"It came down to Villanova, Georgetown or Indiana, and Jay [Wright] recruited my whole family," Booth Sr. said. "He knew my daughters and my wife. I grew up a Villanova fan, but [Phil Jr.] wanted to play in a system that accentuated his skill set.

"And he wants to major in business, and they have one of the best business schools in the country, and that just helps him off the court for his future plans."

He emphasized to his son early on the importance of being "Philly tough" and being a "Philly guard," phrases that describe the prototypical player from the city - hard-nosed at both ends of the court.

"He's kind of a combination of Allan Ray and Kyle Lowry," Wright said in a phone interview. "He's in between those two, where he can shoot it almost as well as Ray, but, like Lowry, he can penetrate. He's probably a mix of those two. I don't want to put a lot of pressure on him, but that's kind of the mix."

Wright said that this summer, Booth has shown the staff he can do a little bit of everything, whether it was playing multiple positions or meshing with his teammates. He can play either guard position and even float to the small forward role in a pint-sized lineup, according to Wright.

Booth, 18, has spent a good amount of time with fellow freshman Mikal Bridges, building chemistry during rounds of shooting, lifting multiple times per day and attending class.

"He has fit in really well and very quickly, it's interesting," Wright said. "He comes in with a great deal of respect for the guys on the team, but on the court he's got a competitiveness that shows no fear, and I really like that. He's respectful of the upperclassmen, but he doesn't fear them on the court. Off the court, he's a loose and lovable guy, and everyone loves him."

The team-first, pass-first point guard from below the Mason Dixon Line is ready to hit Lancaster Avenue with a full head of steam.

"[I've learned] unselfishness and how to be a 'Villanova guard,' " Booth said when asked what he has learned this summer playing with his peers. "[Being a Villanova guard] means defend, rebound, play smart, play hard, do all the valuable things, take charges and do whatever it takes to make the team win."