Barry Booker recalls his career

Jan. 4, 2012

Nashville sports historian Bill Traughber has recently written another book, Vanderbilt Football: Tales of Commodore Gridiron History. The 160-page paperback book can be ordered on for $19.99.

Barry BookerCommodore History Corner Archive

When Barry Booker (1985-89) enrolled at Vanderbilt on a basketball scholarship, he was given an athletic questionnaire. One of the questions on the document was "number of brothers and sisters." Booker had to squeeze in his answer on the limited space as he wrote down the names of 11 siblings.

"I felt just like any typical kid with my brothers and sisters picking on me," laughed Booker, who was sibling No. 12. "They were mean to me and wouldn't let me play the games that they were playing. I was the last and all the nasty stuff runs down hill. I didn't think about the economic situation that we were in, and how that could change for the worse any day until I was in my 20's.

"There was always somebody around to do stuff and play with. There was plenty going on in the house. It was a wonderful way to grow up. All of us graduated from college. Seven of us graduated with advance degrees. It was just amazing what mom and dad were able to do."

Booker's late parents, Monroe and Mary, made their living in the co-owned Booker Brothers service station in downtown Franklin, Tenn. They worked long hours with the ambition to see that their dozen children graduated from college. These special parents also taught values and life lessons to guide their children into adulthood and good citizens.

"They totally emphasized education," Booker said. "The way to impress mom and dad was not to score 20 points in a basketball game, or have accomplishments athletically, though they encouraged that and saw the value in athletic achievement. What were most important were good grades on your report cards and good reports from school. My dad passed away in 2006 and my mom in 2004. They were Christian people and went by treating people the same way you wanted to be treated."

Booker, 44, was a star athlete at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin. He lettered in basketball, baseball and track. Booker excelled in basketball earning All-State honors and Street & Smith's High School Honorable Mention All-American. On the diamond as a senior, Booker stole 31 bases, batted .348 and was 5-1 on the mound. On the hardwood as a senior he averaged 19.4 ppg and graduated BGA as their all-time leading scorer.

The 6-foot-5, 185-pound guard was recruited by Tennessee, Virginia, Louisville, Notre Dame and Penn State. Booker was signed by Vanderbilt Coach C.M. Newton. One advantage that the Commodores had in recruiting Booker to nearby Nashville was his sister Karen. Karen Booker was a star player on the Vanderbilt's women's basketball team.

"My sister Karen was two years ahead of me," Booker said. "She really enjoyed the college experience at Vanderbilt. It was a great school just 20 miles from home. It was everything I wanted in an athletic and academic situation in my back yard. It didn't make any sense to look any farther.

"I had a special bond with Karen. She showed me the ropes and helped me get settled as a freshman. She was nearby and someone to go to for encouragement in my first couple of years at school. There was quite a lot of media attention for both of us with that unique situation with 10 older siblings having graduated college by the time we were in school at Vanderbilt."

As a freshman, Booker played in 26 games making a few starts due to injuries. He averaged 3.6 points per game, playing behind veteran point guard Darrell Dulaney. The other veteran guard on that 1985-86 squad was Jeff Gary with his backup, freshman Barry Goheen.

The team finished the season at 13-15 (7-11 SEC) with the two biggest victories over Tennessee. Booker recalled one of those games as his personal highlight of the season.

"In that Tennessee game in Nashville, we were down by eight points with 48 seconds left and won with no three-point line and no overtime," said Booker. "Steve Reese made a basket to cut the lead to six points and then missed a free throw. I tipped it in to cut the lead to four, and then Goheen scored the last five points of the game for us to win by one point. [Booker scored 10 points in that UT game.]

"That was definitely the highlight of that season; the big comeback at home against Tennessee. We were coming off the year before, though I was not there, where we had lost 11 games in a row in the conference. That 1984-85 season was a real struggle, but we made progress to turn it around my freshman year. Our team was much more competitive than the team before."

As a sophomore, Booker started and averaged 11.9 points per game with 91 assists. This would be the year that college basketball changed with the addition of the three-point line. Booker was not that excited about the new scoring rule.

"I did not think it would make that much of an impact on the game going into that season," said Booker. "I wasn't overly excited about it, but it did have a huge impact on our team and my value to the team. I was starting point guard and we got off to a great start.

"There was a lot of talent on that team, but still not very experienced. We were still finding our way and got beat up in conference play. But with Will [Perdue] playing very well at center and Goheen and I playing well at guards, we were difficult to guard. We had the seven-footer in the middle that you have to pay attention. Will was a great passer and able to kick it out to the guys on the three-point line. We were on the rise."

During that 1986-87 season, the Commodores were 18-16 (7-11). Vanderbilt opened the season with three wins and the championship in the Hawaiian Airlines Silversword Invitational Tournament in Wailuku, Hawaii. In the first game against Virginia Commonwealth, Scott Draud recorded the first three-pointer in Vanderbilt basketball history. Booker added two treys in the game.

Vanderbilt returned to Memorial Gym defeated No. 2 ranked Indiana and Coach Bobby Knight, 79-75. Indiana would eventually win the NCAA National Championship that season.

"That may have been the highlight of that season to have that win on the eventual national champions," Booker said. "Coach Knight and Coach Newton knew each other as coaches on the Olympic team in 1984. Coach Knight came in our locker room after the game to congratulate us.

"I got my most famous quote of my lifetime in Sports Illustrated at the end of the year. We had lost at Kentucky, and a writer that I didn't know came up to me and asked me about Indiana. When we saw Indiana in December, it was without their guard Rick Calloway, which was a big difference. I told the writer that strictly talent-wise Indiana would be a mid-level SEC team. That quote was also in the Vanderbilt yearbook that year. People probably still look at that and say, `what in the world was he thinking about?' It was true. Without Calloway they were not that good, but Coach Knight is awesome."

Vanderbilt finished that season winning their first two games at home against Jacksonville and Florida State in the NIT. They lost to eventual NIT champion Southern Miss in their third game. Though Booker did not realize it at the time, his 85 three-pointers of the season would be the beginning of a record setting three-point shooting legend.

Booker and Company realized that the Commodores were on the verge of becoming a really good basketball team as they entered the 1987-88 season. In July, the team gained valuable preseason experience by playing in the R. William Jones Cup in Taiwan. Booker made the all-Tournament team averaging 16 points per game (55.7 percent) and was 93.8 from the free throw line.

"We knew we were going to be good," Booker said about his upcoming junior season. "We played well in the NIT, but had a tough go of it in conference play. The NIT experience really built our confidence back up. Even though we lost to Southern Miss who went onto win the tournament, they were just amazing. Shan Foster's [Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer] dad was on that team. Then we went to Taiwan and played against international competition. That helped us to prepare for the upcoming season."

With the three-point line firmly set as a major portion on the college basketball scene, Coach Newton would make sure his Commodores were competitive with the long distance shot. With the proven shooting ability of the Commodores, a sports writer dubbed Booker "The Long Ranger" and with his teammates Goheen, Draud, Derrick Wilcox and Charles Mayes, the famed "Bomb Squad" became legendary.

Barry Booker
"Coach Newton recognized that the new three-point line could make a difference in the college game," said Booker. "He wanted to take advantage of the three-point line and take good shots. He would say the worst shot on the court was your foot on the inside of the three-point line, where you aren't getting credit for making this long distance shot.

"Be aware of that line and when the ball comes to you, be ready to fire. He insisted that you shoot 40 percent or better in games to have the green light to take that shot. They had to be good shots. He didn't want us to dribble down the court and fire up a shot. Charlie McAlexander on the Vanderbilt radio network starting calling us `The Bomb Squad.'"

That season Vanderbilt won seven of its first eight games including a victory at Memorial Gym over No. 1 ranked North Carolina and Coach Dean Smith.

"J.R. Reid led them and we felt that we were unstoppable at home," Booker said. "That was so much fun to be part of Vanderbilt basketball at that time with no professional sports in town. Vanderbilt basketball was the biggest show in town. The environment in Memorial Gym was phenomenal in those days. No way will it be like that again. It is impossible to explain to the people who were not around for it."

The streaky Commodores would lose its first three conference games and then win nine out of its next 10 games. During that stretch, Vanderbilt blew out Georgia (92-77), Kentucky (83-66), Florida (92-65), Mississippi State (82-66), Tennessee (90-62) and Mississippi (93-68) all at home.

"We lost three in a row to start conference play," said Booker. "It was like, `oh man, here we go again.' We get into the league and are getting knocked around again. We went to Ole Miss and won a tight game having to fight for the big plays in the end. We were just on a roll. We were a talented team with Will playing at a high level and a lot of confidence carrying us inside.

"It seemed like we were dunking or getting a three-point shot on about every trip on the court. We were athletic enough to run and get some easy baskets. Will could change ends of the courts very well and we would focus on getting him the ball. Once the defense collapsed, he scores or someone else is open to score. That stretch was fun. We were red-hot and just wearing everybody out."

Vanderbilt did secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament with an 18-10 (10-8) record. They defeated Utah State and Pittsburgh to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. However, the Pittsburgh game will go down as one of the most historic victories in Vanderbilt basketball history. The Commodores had to fight back against a Top Ten team. Goheen hit two three-pointers in five seconds to send the game into overtime and a Vanderbilt win. Booker remembers being on the floor during this exciting time.

"You are focused on the game," said Booker. "It wasn't like that super, exciting, electric moment you had at Memorial Gym. We are in Lincoln, Nebraska, and people are into the game, but it was not like a crazy atmosphere while we're just trying to track them down. Towards the end of the game we were down by a few points so we start fouling. They would not miss their free throws.

"We are trading baskets with them, but we can't get a turnover. So it got to where we had to start shooting three-pointers. We rushed it down and Goheen knocks it down in the corner with about five seconds left. We are down by one and we foul them. They made their foul shots, but they made a mistake of not fouling us with a three-point lead. Goheen gets its about 25 feet from the basket and makes a ridiculous shot with two guys on him. We went into overtime and it was over at that point even though Will had fouled out at near the end of regulation. We had all the momentum.

"Then we got home and recognize this was a really huge deal when 4,000 people met us at the airport. There was this huge buzz in the city of Nashville about Vanderbilt basketball and making the Sweet Sixteen. It was like the Kennedy assassination. Do you know where you were when Goheen made that shot to go into overtime?"

Vanderbilt advanced for a Sweet Sixteen game in Pontiac, Mich., against the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas was led by their all-American Danny Manning. The Cinderella season would end when the Jayhawks won the game, 77-64.

"We didn't quite get back into gear when it was time to play again on a Thursday night in Pontiac," said Booker. "We had seen Kansas play in Nebraska and they didn't play particularly well in their first two rounds. Murray State had a great chance to beat them in the early round, but didn't quite pull it off. We weren't intimidated or concerned at all about playing Kansas.

"We felt like we could handle them, but Manning cranked it up a couple of notches in that game against us. We had that huge win on Sunday and got back home with everybody congratulating us and now we are back playing again. We just didn't get that enthusiasm and excitement to get going again for that Sweet Sixteen game. We got off to a horrible start and couldn't get any closer than eight points in the second half. It wasn't really a competitive game."

Kansas would continue on to win the national championship. The Commodores finished that season at 20-11. Booker played in 31 games averaging 10.9 points per game and hitting on 74-of-171 three-pointers (43.3 percent). He led the SEC in three-pointers made and attempts. Entering his senior season, Perdue had graduated and Frank Kornet moved into the pivot.

Booker will be remembered that season for his part in one of the memorable finishes the Commodores were involved with a home game against Georgia. With about 12 seconds left in the game, Vanderbilt was trailing the Bulldogs, 75-73. Booker had the ball and as he crossed the half court line, there was a collision with a Georgia defender. Both players fell to the court. There was a no-call on that play. Booker was asked his opinion on the play as to if it was a block or a charge.

"It was a no-call, that's what it was," laughed Booker. "I absolutely made a big mistake by jumping up into the air to make that pass. I was trying to get under control again and slammed into Rod Cole. I remember being down on the floor praying that a whistle didn't blow on this. I got rid of the ball a second before the contact. I think that's what saved me. It was just a total scramble situation. The refs were focused on the basketball and Goheen did the rest."

Goheen took the pass from Booker, shook off a Georgia player, glanced at the clock, backed up behind the three-point line and knocked it down for a 76-75 Vanderbilt win at the buzzer.

"It was surreal," said Booker. "I got him the ball in his mid-range game where he loved that little 10-12 footer and he's open to tie the game. He backs it out, and Pat Hamilton the great Georgia defender, is chasing all over him. Goheen has his back to the basket. All Hamilton needs to do is keep guarding him, and for some reason Hamilton goes for the steal leaving Goheen open for the winning shot. That was amazing. Coach Newton went up to Goheen after the game and asked, `did you know the score?' Goheen said, `yes, I didn't think you could handle overtime.'"

Anther memorable game in Vanderbilt basketball history that season was the infamous "Tennis Ball" game. Vanderbilt had Florida beaten by two points in Memorial Gym with one second on the clock after a Gators' turnover. Suddenly a few tennis balls were thrown onto the court resulting in a technical foul against the Commodores. Florida center Dwayne Schintzius sank two free throws to send the game into overtime. The Gators won in OT.

"That season our record was not that great," said Booker. "We had a tough non-conference schedule, but we were better in SEC play. We were near the top of the standings starting off and Florida had a poor start. They had a great front line--big and rugged with Schintzius as the biggest of those guys. In that game they had a fast break situation where they looked for sure to tie the game, but threw it away. I thought, `yes, we have won this game with only one second left.'

"Then the tennis balls came onto the court and I'm thinking, `oh, no, no, don't do this.' Schintzius had allegedly beaten a kid with a tennis racket earlier in the summer. When he was going around the league, fans were throwing tennis balls at him. They had been at Tennessee when that had happened on a grand scale. So the commissioner said there would be no more throwing things on the court and told the officials to call a technical foul on the entire team.

"As it would happen, the next place he came was to Nashville. It happened, he hit the two foul shots and we are completely deflated going into overtime. All the momentum went to Florida and it was over. If we had won that game we would have been SEC champions. That's how that is and it still stinks."

Vanderbilt finished the season at 19-14 (12-6) tied for second place and one game behind SEC champion Florida (13-5). The Commodores were selected to the NCAA Tournament, but lost in the first round to Notre Dame, 81-65. The luck of the Irish was obvious as the game was played on St. Patrick's Day.

Earlier in the season Newton announced that he was resigning at the end of the season to become the athletic director at Kentucky, his alma mater. Eddie Fogler replaced Newton as head coach. Booker graduated with a degree in economics and did have a chance to play in the NBA though he was not drafted.

"Coach Newton had moved on and Coach Fogler had moved in," said Booker. "Coach [assistant Ed] Martin had a lot of contacts in the NBA. He was trying to get me in the Minnesota Timberwolves camp. I had some connections with the Utah Jazz and they thought about drafting me, but didn't.

"I ended up with Coach Fogler's connections with San Antonio and Larry Brown, a North Carolina guy. I got a tryout. Will Anderson [Georgia] and Vernon Maxwell [Florida] were a couple of SEC guys in their second year with the Spurs and were working out with the rookies. I knew I could compete and play with those guys from having done it with them in the SEC.

"I could also see that there were things they could do athletically that were just beyond me. I knew this would not be a long-term proposition for me in the NBA. Brown felt bad about letting me go and tried to let me down easy. I told him it was okay, that I knew that day would come sooner or later and that's why I went to Vanderbilt. I was happy to get back to Nashville and get on with my life."

Barry BookerBooker is presently a commercial banker with Wells Fargo Bank in Nashville and has a "hobby" as a television basketball analyst. He has been seen quite often in Memorial Gym analyzing games. Once in a while you might see Booker in pregame on the court shooting three-pointers with the approval of Vandy fans. Booker said with a laugh that he could still hit the threes if he is not being guarded.

"A few years out of school, Rudy Kalis asked me to be a guest commentator at halftime of a Vanderbilt/Memphis game," Booker said. "I did that and loved it. I was told I did well and should look into doing television work. After that season, Rudy asked me to help with a 30-minute special on the area teams that were competing in the NCAA Tournament.

"And again people were telling me how well I did and I should look into it. That summer, the folks at Jefferson Pilot called for me to do an audition in Charlotte. They picked me up to do games that following season. This is year 19 doing SEC basketball games."

Booker was an Academic All-SEC, and ranks 22nd on the Vanderbilt all-time scoring list with 1, 310 points. He averaged 14.4 points per game as senior. As a three-point shooter, Booker was 246-of-535 (.460) for his career. Booker ranks sixth all-time in three-pointers made and ninth in attempts. His 46.0 percent ranks first all-time in three-point percentage. Booker led the team in three-pointers the first three years the rule was in effect.

Booker was asked to look back on his career at Vanderbilt and reminisced about the college basketball experience.

"It's the entire experience," said Booker. "The basketball was great and wonderful. There were the challenges of going through the first couple of years building and getting knocked around a bit on the basketball court. We had that great success my junior year with the Sweet Sixteen experience and the excitement everybody had about our team. That whole experience was phenomenal. School was great as well.

"A lot of my friends today are friends I made at Vanderbilt. That was and is the best thing about being a student-athlete is that you get that entire experience. You get that top-level athletic experience and all the best things that are available from that standpoint. You don't have people assuming you are a dumb jock since you are at Vanderbilt. People look at you differently as a Vanderbilt student-athlete than at other places. I could not imagine having a better college experience in those four years of my life."

Traughber's Tidbit: Vanderbilt has hit at least one three-pointer in every game played since the three-point shot was implemented. That goes back to Scott Draud's first Commodores' trey in 1986. The Vanderbilt three-point streak extends to 810 games through the Miami (Ohio) game. Princeton and UNLV join the Commodores as the only college teams to record at least one three-pointer since the rule was in effect.

Tidbit Two: There have been two former Vanderbilt head basketball coaches that are members of the National College Football Hall of Fame--Wallace Wade (1922-23) and Josh Cody (1924-27, 1932-36). As was the tradition in this era, assistant football coaches were usually the head basketball coach. Wade played his college football at Alabama and was an assistant football coach under Dan McGugin. He became the head football coach at Alabama and Duke. Cody is enshrined as a Commodore player (1914-16, 1919) and was the head football coach at Clemson, Mercer, Vanderbilt, Florida and Temple. He played tackle for McGugin and was one of his assistant coaches.

If you have any comments or suggestions, you can contact Bill Traughber via email



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