JUNEAU - Basketball first led Carlos Boozer away from Juneau, but now it's brought him home.
The once-lanky manchild that led Juneau-Douglas High School to back-to-back state championships - and then did the same for Duke and the 2008 U.S. Olympic team - returned this week for the first time in four years. The NBA all-star and Utah Jazz big man said it's great to finally be back.
Boozer left town in 1999 bound for collegiate stardom at Duke University after winning three straight state high school player of the year awards and two state titles as a sophomore and junior.
After spending time raising a family of his own and winning a gold medal for Team USA, Boozer returned to his alma mater to host his own basketball camp for Alaska youths.
"It's been great to catch up with a lot of kids I went to high school with, a lot of my friends I'd lost touch with, and reconnect," he said Thursday in the basketball office next to the court he once dominated. "Coming back home is a blessing for me because sometimes you lose touch with people, and you want to see how they're doing now.
"It's been great to be back home."
Boozer currently lives in Miami during the off-season, but he chose Juneau to host his basketball camp, which he said will now be an annual occurrence.
"I was very fortunate to have a lot of people to look after me, mainly my mom and dad, of course. But I had a lot of other people that helped me get to where I am today. That's the reason why I'm back, and I'll be back here every year doing this camp and trying to give back to the kids," he said. "I want to keep them off the street and doing something constructive, the same thing that people did for me when I was a kid."
And he couldn't have picked a better time to return. Sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s and 80s graced Juneau, giving a short reprieve from the usual cloudy skies and rainfall.
"Oh my gosh, it's been great. I feel like I never left Miami," he said. "It's been beautiful, 80 to 85 (degrees) most of the time. I've been able to get out, do some sightseeing and go out the road, go to the shrine and just have a good time.
"I have a lot of guests here, and I've been taking them around and showing them a little bit of my city where I grew up They're amazed by the beauty," he continued. "I said, 'Guys, I told you before we came that it's one of the most beautiful places that you've never seen.' They can't wait to come back again, too. You have a city built between a couple of mountains, and the ocean as our backyard. It's unbelievable."
From humble beginnings to celebrity status
During his time away, Boozer has hobnobbed with the rich and famous, even playing the role of landlord to Prince himself. He also had a few starstruck moments, especially the first times he stepped on the court opposite Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett.
"It's different," said Boozer, who had a modest upbringing in Juneau. "You start meeting people who you watch on TV or you have their CDs in your car, and they're my friends now. It's very cool and very surreal. Sometimes I gotta pinch myself and say, 'Is this really my life?'
"God puts us on paths, and sometimes we don't know what they're going to be, but it's always for a purpose," he continued. "I'm very happy where I'm at, and it's very cool to be a fan of people and at the same time be friends with them, too."
Boozer said he's a huge hip-hop and R&B fan, especially Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and his "rookie of the year," Drake. He's also a sports fanatic.
"I'm a crazy football guy. I love baseball, and I watch track & field, too," he said. "I watch very little (MMA), but I think it's a really exciting sport. My favorite team is the Philadelphia Eagles. I've been a fan since Randall Cunningham, and I'm a monster (Donovan) McNabb guy."
Gold medal redemption
Boozer was a member of the 2004 Olympic team that brought home a disappointing bronze medal. In 2008, he helped lead the Redeem Team back to the top of the world, right where the U.S. belongs, he said.
"There were four of us on that team that were on the '04 team that went to Athens; me, D-Wade (Dwyane Wade), LeBron (James) and Carmelo Anthony, and we were blessed to be able to be in a position where we could come back and win the gold medal," he said. "We wanted to put basketball in America back on top. We started this game, this is our game and our sport. For us to have lost the gold medal back in Athens, we felt responsible for that. We wanted a second chance at it, and that's where the Redeem Team came from, giving us an opportunity to prove ourselves again."
But that task that has become increasingly difficult, Boozer said, with the rise of great national teams the world over.
"We had to earn it. We played some really good teams and Spain gave us all we could handle in the championship game," he said. "We played all the teams that everybody said we were going to have trouble with, and we beat every one of them."
And this time, he did it playing for his former college coach, Mike Krzyzewski.
"Obviously, playing with Coach K was great, but playing with the players was what made it so special," he said. "We had Jason Kidd as our captain, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James - the two best players in the world - and a bunch of us that are all great players in our own right. We meshed all of our talents together and put all of our egos aside. All of us have egos, but we all gelled into one team and that was the mark of Coach K."
Boozer said Krzyzewski is a master at blending talent into a "collective ego."
"We all said, 'We're the best team, we're going to go prove it every night.' And that's what we did," he said. "He was able to get everybody to play with each other - play unselfishly - but to be aggressive and selfish defensively. 'We're not going to give up a point. You have to earn it, and we're going to beat youoffensively.'
"It was one of those things that I'm going to remember for the rest of my life," he continued. "Winning a gold medal is up there with anything you can accomplish. It's the single most outstanding achievement I've had in basketball. You're playing against the world. It's not just your state, it's not the collegiate level or the NBA, it's the world. You get a chance to wear USA across your chest, and how many athletes would give anything to replace us on the team to get a chance to put USA across their chests?. I take it as very special, and I was honored to be a part of the team.
Krzyzewski and Bryant have already announced their intentions to re-up for the 2012 games, so how about Boozer?
"If they ask me, I'd love to be a part of it," he said. "They're working out some kids now and getting ready to go forward. If I were invited, I'd do it again in aheartbeat."
There has been a lot of speculation about Boozer's future in Utah, but he said he has no idea yet how things will turn out or where he might be playing next year. But he does have plenty of ideas about his future afterbasketball.
"I have a lot going on now. I've set myself up to be in a really good position to do some business things, and enjoy my kids," he said as a smile began to form. "Right now, I'm so busy working out. I'm always trying to better myself, and I miss a little time with my kids. So I'm going to do a lot more with them as far as maybe coaching their Little League teams, or maybe coaching their basketball teams. I just want to be in their lives and teach them every thing that I've learned. And just enjoying my life and traveling, enjoy being retired.
"That's a long way away, though. Probably 10 years away."