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Booker gives Clemson force to be reckoned with

He's 6-foot-7 but plays like he's 6-11. He's a 240-pound power forward but can move like a 180-pound point guard. He's physical yet athletic. He's a force inside and a threat on the perimeter.

Missouri, meet Clemson's Trevor Booker.

How well acquainted Missouri gets with him will be a huge key to today's East Regional first-round matchup at HSBC Arena.

"I watched a lot of tape on him," Missouri forward Keith Ramsey said. "He's an athletic freak. We can stop him or we can just contain him. . . . It's going to be a tough challenge for all the forwards to handle."

Booker isn't a total stranger to Missouri, whose head coach, Mike Anderson, worked with Booker in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the Team USA tryouts for the World University Games last summer. Anderson was struck by Booker's talent and tenacity.

"He's a warrior," Anderson said. "He's elevated his game to another level. He's a leader of that basketball team."

Missouri's players say they played with a Booker clone in DeMarre Carroll, a 6-8 forward who helped Missouri reach the Elite Eight last season before becoming a first-round draft pick of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Booker isn't concerned about Missouri's knowledge of his game. After all, Atlantic Coast Conference teams played against him for four years and couldn't figure out a way to handle him.

Booker is the only player in ACC history to compile 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 assists, 200 blocks and 100 steals. He's a two-time All-ACC selection, earning first-team honors this season after ranking in the conference's top 10 in five categories, including scoring (15.3 points per game), rebounds (8.3) and field goal percentage (52.3).

He can get it done on the other end, too, as evidenced by his selection to the ACC's All-Defensive team.

"I try to use my strength, and I hustle, I try to go hard into the other player," Booker said in explaining why he's so effective inside. "I know a lot of people say I'm undersized. But I just put that in the back of my mind and let it motivate me."

Clemson tries to get the ball to Booker often, knowing he'll score, draw a foul or set up a teammate for a basket.

Although Clemson loves to run and gun on offense, coach Oliver Purnell is comforted by the knowledge that he has a player who can control the game in the half court.

"It is a luxury to have a first-team All-ACC player, one of the best in the country, a guy that can go inside and out," Purnell said. "Offensively, we like for him to get touches in the lane. We like to run our offense through him, inside-out. And it creates a situation where teams have to choose whether to double- or triple-team him in some cases.

"It presents our other players with opportunities to score, and if they don't he's pretty good from a scoring standpoint. He's probably the best all-around player that's ever played in Clemson. So it has been nice to coach him."

Matching up with Booker will be tough for Missouri with starting forward Justin Safford out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and forward Laurence Bowers playing with two torn ligaments in his left, nonshooting wrist that will require surgery after the NCAA Tournament.

With a limited frontcourt, it will be up to Missouri's pressure defense to make it difficult for Clemson's guards to set up the offense and feed Booker in the post.

"From a guard's perspective, our job to help the bigs out definitely is to harass and pressure their guards so they can't make those easy entry passes," said Missouri guard J.T. Tiller. "We just have to make them work to get up court so they can get fatigued and they can't make the moves they usually want to make and try to get the ball inside to [Booker] as they usually do."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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