Last Dec. 9, St. Joseph’s had a big second half in defeating visiting Loyola (Md.), 68-42. Coach Phil Martelli cleared his bench late in the game and among the reserves to take the court was Michael Booth.
The box score from that Tuesday night reveals Booth played two minutes and did not record any other statistics. But those two minutes were as good as gold.
Though he played in two prior games, including one at nearby Villanova, the contest against Loyola marked Booth’s first appearance at Hagan Arena, the Hawks’ home court. That was a pretty big deal when considering family history.
“It was definitely cool,” said the sophomore guard, who appeared in four games last season and one this season heading into Tuesday night’s game against Princeton. “I had all of my family here, which is probably the best thing about going to St. Joe’s because it’s not too far away from home. My family and friends are able to come watch me play and all them were here for that game. They were happy to see me play and my grandfather was in attendance, so it was pretty special.”
Booth’s grandfather is former St. Joseph’s player and coach Harry Booth. He coached the Hawks from 1974-75 through 1977-78 and played three seasons under Jack Ramsay in the early 1960s, a time when the program was routinely participating in the NCAA Tournament. Harry also played and coached baseball and is the only St. Joseph’s alumnus to be a captain of two teams and coach two sports.
His grandfather’s mark on the school, located on Philadelphia’s western edge, made such an impression on Michael that in his mind it was, well, a slam dunk to attend the Catholic university.
Booth attended Bishop Shanahan High School in suburban Philadelphia and did not receive any offers from Division I programs. He badly wanted to play at the game’s highest level and thought about staying close to him by going to St. Joseph’s as a walk-on.
Midway through his senior year Martelli and Rob Sullivan, the program’s director of operations, met with Booth and his parents to tell them there was a spot on the roster and that they were interested in having Michael on board as a walk-on. The rest was history and Booth soon after added to the family history at St. Joseph’s.
“I accepted immediately,” said Booth, who during high school knew Sullivan through basketball camps and individual workouts. “It was a dream come true. I always wanted to play Division I college basketball. To be able to do it here at St. Joe’s with the school’s history and my grandfather’s history made it a real special day.”
It has been special for Harry to see his grandson not only wear the crimson and gray, but also enjoy the university setting within which he once thrived.
“It meant a great deal to me to see one of my (eight) grandchildren wanting to go to St. Joseph’s,” said Harry, who was an also assistant to Rollie Massimino at Villanova in the 1980s. “He is an excellent student, he loves the school, he loves the team and he loves his coaches. I take tremendous pride in what he has accomplished.”
Michael, whose father, David, played at Catholic University and whose uncle, Kevin, is among the all-time leading scorers at Mount St. Mary’s, speaks to Harry almost daily. The conversations include plenty of advice and motivation.
“He motivates me to keep playing hard by saying things like, ‘You know you are not playing so just keep showing the coaches what you can do,’” said Michael, who stands 6-3, 200 pounds and has worked diligently on improving his defense and ball-handling. “If I am having a bad week he will tell me not to get too low and that I will bounce back. He tells me how I can continue to keep improving.”
Their talks are not limited to the hardwood. First and foremost Harry wants to know how his grandson is doing and how his classes are going. As far as the classroom is concerned Michael has had nothing but good things to report. After all, the pharmaceutical marketing major earned Atlantic 10 honor roll recognition last year.
“That meant a lot to me,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in my schoolwork and obviously the ‘student’ comes first in student-athlete. I like basketball a lot, but it is important to me to maintain a good grade point average.”
Harry would have it no other way.
“He epitomizes, in my mind, what a young man should be today,” he said. “He takes tremendous pride in St. Joe’s and everything he is doing at the university.”