MAULDIN, S.C. – It has been nearly 20 years since a young Trevor Booker experienced the thrill of meeting NBA star Kevin Garnett at a youth basketball camp in Mauldin.
Booker has been returning the favor ever since.
Booker, who is conducting his five-day youth basketball camp this week at the Mauldin Rec Center, surprised campers on Thursday by delivering one of his well-known NBA cohorts – All-Star point guard John Wall.
“He’s my favorite player to watch,” said 11-year-old camper Cameron Woodruff. “He’s just nasty on the court.”
And, well, perhaps not so nasty off it.
“I always love giving back,” Wall said. “When I was a kid, I never had the opportunity to meet an NBA player, which is why I enjoy doing things like this now.
“There are life lessons you want to share with these kids and put a smile on their faces.”
Wall did just that time and again Thursday, teaming up with Booker to mug for photos and sign autographs on essentially everything placed before them, from shoes to Gatorade bottles, from caps to cellphone cases.
A wayward University of Kentucky pennant or two were even spotted in the crowd, which brought a smile to Wall’s face. Wall played one season at Kentucky before making the jump to the NBA in 2010, when he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft by the Washington Wizards.
The 26-year-old Raleigh, N.C., native has spent his entire pro career with the Wizards, and played alongside Booker, a former Clemson standout, for his first four years in the league.
“We were great teammates,” Wall said. “We came in at the same time.”
And much like Booker, who averaged 10 points and eight rebounds for the Brooklyn Nets last season, is coming off his best campaign as a pro.
Wall, a point guard, averaged career highs in points (23.1) and assists (10.7) and guided the Wizards to a first-round playoff victory against the Hawks before helping them push the Boston Celtics to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“It was great, getting to the second round,” Wall said. “We’re trying to get over that hump. But it was a great opportunity to get back there after not making it last year.”
Wall faced a tough challenge once again Thursday, as the 125 campers lobbed question after question his direction.
“Who’s your favorite NBA team?”
“How many years have you played?”
“Who’s the most famous person you’ve dunked on?”
“Can you dunk on LeBron James?”
And so on and so on.
Kids aren’t shy when it comes to questions, and Wall obliged them all.
“I have a lot of nieces and nephews and love being around kids,” Wall said. “I never had the opportunity to see somebody come back and give back to the community like Book is doing. He always does great things, so I’m glad to be here.”