When former Juneau-Douglas High School basketball star Carlos Boozer Jr. makes his NBA debut tonight, it will be coming off the bench as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers' "Kiddie Corps."
Boozer, a 6-foot-8, 258-pound rookie power forward out of Duke University and Cleveland's top second-round pick in June's NBA Draft, will become just the second former Alaska high school player to play in the NBA.
It will be the second time in four years a former Alaska player debuted with the Cavaliers. Former East Anchorage High School guard Trajan Langdon, who spent three years in Cleveland, now plays for Benetton Treviso of the Italian League.
During the preseason, Boozer came off the bench as the back-up power forward and averaged 15-20 minutes a game as the Cavaliers posted a 2-5 record. His best scoring effort was eight points, while his top rebounding effort was six. Boozer, who couldn't be reached for this story, had three games with at least two steals.
"Carlos is learning a lot and hopefully he's getting better," Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball coach George Houston said last week, before Cleveland beat the three-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. "He called me today and left a message about how excited he was to be playing the Lakers, even though Shaq's (center Shaquille O'Neal) out with an injury. He played the whole fourth quarter in the game they won (a victory over the Utah Jazz). He's not getting a lot of shots in their offense right now, but he's learning a lot."
Houston will be one of several Juneau residents in attendance when the Cavs open their season tonight in Sacramento, Calif., against the NBA Western Conference runner-up Sacramento Kings. Cleveland plays at the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday and at the Phoenix Suns on Friday before playing their home-opener on Nov. 5 against the Lakers.
The Carlos Boozer Archive
Cleveland's roster is called the "Kiddie Corps" because it's the second-youngest in the NBA, at an average age of 24.83 years old (trailing only the Denver Nuggets' 24.61 years old). Of the 13 players on Cleveland's opening-day roster (top draft pick Dajuan Wagner starts on the injured list following surgery last week to remove a blood clot in his ureter), 11 are age 27 or younger and nine are 24 or younger. Boozer doesn't turn 21 until Nov. 20.
Because Cleveland's key players are very young, expectations aren't very high that the Cavs will be able to improve on last year's record of 29-53. The Cavs lost their top three scorers from last year's team, but with athletic leapers like Darius Miles, Jumaine Jones and Wagner getting a lot of playing time, the team will be a lot more exciting than it was last season.
Boozer will be an understudy this year while he makes the transition from college center to NBA power forward. Having played on winning teams all his life, Boozer announced earlier this month that he thinks the Cavs can be contenders this year. Head coach John Lucas, though, felt that optimism may be premature.
"That's why he has a big 'R' after his name," Lucas said when informed of Boozer's prediction.
While Lucas may not be impressed with Boozer's prognostication skills, he's been impressed with his play during the preseason.
Boozer has shown more shooting range than he did at Duke - where he was expected to play with his back to the basket - and Lucas said early in training camp that it was the first time he'd seen one of his big guys dive for loose balls like Boozer did without winding up in the trainer's room.
During Cleveland's trip to the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league in July, Boozer was the third-leading scorer (17.5 points a game) and top rebounder (10.3 a game) in the short camp for rookies and younger players. That earned Boozer a rare deal for second-round draft picks, a two-year guaranteed contract valued at $988,679 ($425,000 this year).
"He's Tyrone Hill with a jump shot," Lucas told a couple of Cavaliers beat writers earlier this month. "Boozer has been playing very well. He's grabbing a lot of rebounds out there. He's very active."
Since training camp opened on Oct. 1, Boozer has been trying to soak up as much knowledge as he can from Hill, who is one of two 34-year-old veterans on the Cavs' roster. Boozer's been working out with Hill, who is in the last year of his contract and knows his job might be taken by Boozer next year.
"He has little tricks - how to rebound, how to position your body, little things like that," Boozer told reporter Bob Finnan of the News-Herald of Mentor-Willoughby, Ohio. "Obviously, he's been in the league for 13 years and he's a professional. You can learn a lot from a player like that - how things are going to be called, how to preserve yourself. He's the veteran. I'm going to follow his lead."
Hill may have given Boozer the ultimate compliment when he said Boozer reminds him of himself.
"He reminds me of me a little bit," Hill said in the same article. "He plays hard and likes to do the dirty work. He's going to be in the league for a long time.
"He has some good fundamentals. He was in school for four years (actually Boozer was at Duke for three years). He had a good coach and a good system. That has a lot to do with it. He's pretty solid. I like the way he plays. He's a good backup. He has the most heart of all the guys I've seen come from Duke."
Hill said he doesn't mind passing his knowledge on to younger players such as Boozer. Hill said he learned a lot from the veterans when he first arrived in Cleveland following a 1993 trade.
"I did the same thing when I came here with Hot Rod (Williams), Larry (Nance) and Brad (Daugherty)," Hill said. "That's part of being young and being hungry, especially when you play around the basket. You want to learn as many tricks as possible. You can be a great rebounder, but you still need to know some of those tricks, stuff you can get away with and stuff you can't get away with. That's part of watching the veteran guys."
Boozer said in another News-Herald article that he relished the opportunity to go up against Utah Jazz power forward Karl Malone, who Boozer considers the best player at that position in the history of the game. Boozer received a rude introduction from Malone, who swatted Boozer's first shot into the stands, but Boozer said it was still a great experience.
"He's someone I look up to," Boozer said. "I learned a lot in a short time. You have to go up strong against him."
Lucas thinks Boozer can help the Cavs with some physical play inside, but he can't be too nice.
"I tell Carlos, 'When you knock someone down, don't go pick them up,'" Lucas told the Akron Beacon-Journal. "You don't see Karl Malone picking anybody up."
While he has a bit to learn, Lucas said Boozer's shown with his hustle he deserves to be in the mix and should earn plenty of playing time this season.
"It looks that way so far," Lucas told the News-Herald. "I only have so many minutes. You'd better be fighting for them."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.