Editor's note : This is the final story in a three-part series profiling former Penn State men's basketball stars.
Gail and Calvin Booth Sr. stressed to their son what they felt was the most important aspect of his young life.
Considering that their son was a basketball talent certain to play in college, most parents would stress that working at his basketball game would take precedence over all else. But, this wasn't the case in a young Calvin Booth's life. His parents emphasized that education came first and foremost.
This summer, the former Penn State star center's upbringing paid off and he signed the biggest professional basketball contract for a Nittany Lion basketball player. The 25 year-old signed a six-year, $34 million contract with the Seattle Supersonics. Booth saw his market value shoot up after his short stint with the Dallas Mavericks, who acquired him via trade with the Washington Wizards, where he finished the 2000-2001 season 12th in the NBA in blocked shots per game averaging a shade over two.
Booth started blocking shots in fifth grade when he first started playing basketball at an east Columbus community center. Instead of pushing the sport on him, his parents pushed his education to the forefront.
"We didn't even think about NBA or sports," Gail Booth said. "All we thought about was making sure he did well in school, did well in college and got a profession that could support a family."
Booth played his high school basketball for Groveport-Madison H.S. in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. During his stay there he was named second-team Ohio Capital Conference and before his senior year was named one of the top prep centers in the nation by Bluechip Illustrated. The 6-foot-11 center finally decided to play his college ball out of state at Penn State.
"I always watched Big Ten basketball and Penn State jumped on my list when they went Big Ten," Booth said. "When they showed interest, I visited and I liked the atmosphere. It was a good college town."
Even when Booth decided to come play major Div. I basketball, his parents had reminded him that an education should come first.
Booth's legacy here at Penn State did not take long to build as in his first season, after redshirting, he averaged 3.61 blocks per game over 28 games. He averaged just 9.3 points per game as a freshman as many critics had labeled him as a pure shot blocker, but as his career went on at Penn State he started to develop more of an offensive game.
"He always had the offensive capability," Gail Booth said.
"He talked to people like Pete Lisicky and other people he played with and they confirmed he had a good outside shot and could score offensively. That just wasn't the game they had for him. He was a post player and defensive player and he likes to give people what they want."
His senior year was really the year that gave the NBA scouts notice that he could take the next step. He averaged a personal best 15.3 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game.
"I just concentrated on what I needed to do to become a better all-around player," Booth said.
Booth's career at Penn State saw him set many records. Booth set the Penn State record for blocks in a game with 10, hitting that mark twice. He also finished with 428 blocks, most ever in the Big Ten conference, and the fifth highest total in NCAA history.
Booth credited the Penn State program and Penn State coach Jerry Dunn with helping him to mature on and off the court, both physically and emotionally.
"We have a great relationship," Dunn said.
"We play phone tag a lot. He is one of my favorite people, obviously when he came here he was a project and he had the faith to come here and work hard. I'm very elated to see the success he is having, he is a great person."
Probably even more impressive to his parents than his on the court accomplishments were his off the court accomplishments. The Reynoldsburg native's work ethic helped him to receive his bachelor degree in marketing from Penn State in December 1998.
The following June, after an impressive performance in the Goodwill Games, Booth heard his name called at the NBA Draft. He was selected in the second round with the 35th pick overall by the Washington Wizards. He only saw action in 11 games that season, but turned in a solid performance.
"It was a very positive experience," Booth said. "Coincidentally it was against the Mavericks while I was with Washington I had about six or seven rebounds. It was to get respect."
Booth started his next season with the Wizards, but was traded mid-season to the Dallas Mavericks. He played just 15 regular season games for the Mavericks, but turned in his most important performance in the post-season.
The young Mavericks had taken the veteran Utah Jazz team to the fifth game of the first round, it was now the fourth quarter, enter Calvin Booth. He played all 12 minutes of the all-important fourth quarter and converted a layup over certain Hall-of-Famer Karl Malone to give the Mavericks an 84-83 victory sending them into the second round of the NBA playoffs.
"It was more about what the shot meant not who it was over," Booth said. "(Michael) Finley did a great job of finding me and it helped us go to second round of playoffs. It was big for Dallas and the city."
The Seattle Supersonics who wanted to fill the gap left by Patrick Ewing's departure quickly signed Booth, a free agent after the 2000-2001 season, in the offseason to an offer sheet. The salary-cap strapped Mavericks could not match the offer and Booth picked up his bags and went to his third NBA city in as many years.
"Dallas was a good situation, but going to Seattle was an opportunity to play a prominent role on a young team that has a chance to be a real good team," Booth said.
Booth's role with the Supersonics this season has been neither what the team or he has expected. He has played in just 15 games this season and has averaged just 18.6 minutes per game. Booth gave a flash of the brilliance the Supersonics had expected all season against Dallas on Nov. 20 when he scored a career-high 24 points.
"It was definitely a satisfaction to do that well against an old team, but it was one game and it's a long season," Booth said. "I've had problems with injuries, but it was just one game it felt good at the time."
Booth's injury has caused him to miss 31 games already this season. He injured his ankle before the season started and developed tendinitis trying to play on it. He had his protective boot taken off his right ankle on Friday, but no timetable has been set for his return.
Booth's career has already taken many twists and turns as he has seen some of the highs and, now with his injury, he has seen the lows. His travels around the NBA have already taken him to three different parts of the country, but Booth has not allowed the rapidly changing NBA life to effect him.
"I think he has adjusted to go with the flow in the league," Gail Booth said. "Fortunately he has enjoyed working and playing with the teams he has played with in the NBA."
The NBA is only a dream few players can realize, but many talented players have gone awry on their trip to the NBA. Whether it is an attitude or behavior problem, many talented players have never seen the hardwood of the NBA.
Calvin Booth's road to the NBA wasn't inhibited by any of those problems and that road was paved by the principles laid down by his parents.
And that has made all the difference.