Former Juneau-Douglas High School basketball player Carlos Boozer Jr. was angry when he slipped into the second round of the 2002 NBA Draft.
Boozer, who attended Duke University and was a third-team all-American last year, had been listed on most of the pre-draft draft boards as a mid- to late-first-round selection. Then, on draft day, Boozer watched as he slipped into the second round before the Cleveland Cavaliers finally selected him with the 35th pick overall and the sixth of the second round.
As he prepared for his rookie season, Boozer said he was using the draft slight as motivation, channeling his anger into making himself a better player. He dropped weight and gained quickness to answer some of his critics, and his extra work has been a major part of his success this season, making him a rare bright spot for the struggling Cavaliers.
Boozer's hard work has been rewarded, as he earned a spot on the Rookie Team for the 2003 "got milk?" Rookie Challenge Game that takes place at noon AST on Saturday in Atlanta as part of the NBA's All-Star Weekend. Boozer is one of 10 rookies who will play the Sophomore Team, a squad made up of 10 second-year players. The Rookie Challenge Game will be broadcast live on TNT (cable television channel 39) and on ESPN Radio.
"I felt like a first-round caliber player," Boozer said about this season in a quote sheet posted on the Cleveland Cavaliers' Web site. "I'm using it as motivation this year, and probably for my whole career. I think every time you play and do well, you get more confidence. I think I have been doing pretty well during the games, and my confidence is definitely up."
"A lot of people stepped on Boozer in the draft and now he's coming out and playing," Cavaliers rookie teammate Dajuan Wagner said on the same quote sheet. "He is showing them he's one of the best rookies in this league."
At the start of the season, Boozer rode the bench as veteran Tyrone Hill started at power forward for the Cavs. Boozer didn't see a lot of playing time until Hill went down with an injury - then he made the most of his big chance.
Boozer has started 25 of Cleveland's 50 games this season, posting 12 double-doubles along the way. Boozer is averaging 8.7 points a game, with a season-high of 26 points scored on Dec. 4 against the Chicago Bulls. He also is averaging 6.3 rebounds a game (with a high of 15 on Jan. 17 against Denver), and 1.0 assists a game. Boozer's field-goal percentage of .542 (174-for-321) ranks second in the NBA.
"He can do really well in this league," Chicago Bulls rookie and former Duke teammate Jay Williams said on the quote sheet. "Everybody didn't give him the respect that he deserved. As a brother and a friend, I love him to death. And he's going to be a heck of a basketball player in the NBA."
Boozer has impressed Wagner and Williams, who will join him on the rookie team, but he also has impressed some coaches around the NBA, who shared their thoughts via the quote sheet.
"We talked about Boozer," Denver Nuggets head coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "I mentioned him as someone who could come in and be a silent killer in the game. I think he's really playing well."
"He catches everything," Cavaliers assistant coach Ron Ekker said. "Having good hands is important. He plays where big men play and there's an awful lot of traffic there. If a guy can't catch a ball under those conditions, he's a liability. There are guys pushing at him and swiping, but Carlos maintains control."
In a feature story about Boozer posted on the Cavs' Web site, teammate Chris Mihm talked about Boozer's improvement this season.
"'Booz' has come a long way this year, in terms of finding success at the college level and continuing that at the pro level," Mihm said in the feature story. "I know some of his critics questioned his speed and height as negative factors to his game. But he's come in, played real hard-nosed, got some tough buckets and pulled down some big boards."
"What makes Carlos successful is his energy level," Cavs interim head coach Keith Smart said in the feature story. "When he shows energy, it complements his dedication and hard work that he's put in."
Boozer said his rookie season has been all about making adjustments - to the longer season, the travel, the different intensity level, new rules and a set of new opponents three nights a week. Boozer said he worked on his all-around game to make sure he brought a complete package of skills with him every time he takes the court, but the key to his success has been his willingness to learn.
"Every new game is an adjustment, and that's part of learning," Boozer said in the feature.
"He's got an eagerness to learn, and with that you see only the best for him," Smart said.