Phil Booth, 2014, Mount St. Joseph
by Derek Toney
Baltimore and Philadelphia each have a rich basketball history. Phil Booth has a place in both.
The former Mount St. Joseph star, VSN’s No. 3 Boys Basketball Guard of the Decade, was the consummate player for the Irvington school, and later, Villanova University.
Booth learned the hard way, playing against older former NBA players DaJuan Summers (Los Angeles Clippers/McDonogh School) and Kim English (Detroit Pistons/Randallstown) or playing pickup with his dad’s former Coppin State teammates.
“Guys are quicker than you; they’re faster than you and they’re physical, so you have to be able to play the right way,” said Phil Booth Sr., who led Coppin State to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 1990. ”Now, sometimes, almost to a fault, he can be unselfish because when you play with older guys, you’ve got to make the right pass, you have to take the right shot, you can’t just come down and jack up a lot of shots.”
The younger Booth was the proverbial jack of all trades on the hardwood, playing alongside Kameron Williams (Ohio State) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure), who spent time in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks. After losing in the Baltimore Catholic League Tournament semifinals in his freshman season, Booth and the Gaels took off.
The Irvington school won 93 games over Booth’s final three seasons. The Gaels won three consecutive Baltimore Catholic League Tournament championships.
In his final BCL game in 2014, Booth scored 28 points in the Gaels’ 80-77 overtime victory over Calvert Hall College in the tourney title game, considered the greatest game in BCL history.
“We were pretty even coming into it, we knew each other very well and there wasn’t much left to scout, so we knew what was coming,” said Booth, who was named tourney MVP. “We had an older team, guys that had won BCL championships before with me and Jaylen, Jordan, Kyle Doran, Doc Barnes and, of course, coach (Pat) Clatchey. We had the chemistry down pat and we just dug deep. I think our experience really helped us.”
Booth was selected VSN’s Player of the Year, averaging 19 points, six rebounds and three assists. He was also BCL Player of the Year as a senior and was Defensive Player of the Year in his junior campaign.
“It was all about winning championships,” said Booth, who capped his varsity career with a 37-point performance against Calvert Hall in the fifth-place game at the Alhambra Catholic Invitational at Frostburg State. “I wanted to do whatever on the court to help my team win.”
“He just had a great overall career, a guy that came in with high expectations and delivered,” said Clatchey, who won 115 games with Booth in the lineup. “He’s a very versatile player who can help a team win in so many ways. He definitely left his stamp on Mount St. Joe basketball.”
Booth went to Villanova where he left his mark, winning two national championships. In 2016, he scored a team-high 20 points in the Wildcats’ victory over North Carolina in the national title game.
The game will be remembered for Kris Jenkins’ game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. Booth, a sophomore reserve, played a near perfect game, hitting six of seven attempts from the perimeter and finished six-of-six from the free throw line.
Booth, who cut his teeth playing against older players and high level games during his time at Mount St. Joseph was ready for his shining moment.
“Everybody put confidence in me to make shots. If you’re open, you shoot the ball. It doesn’t matter who it is,” said Booth. “If it’s the right play to make, shoot it.”
A left knee injury all but wiped out Booth’s junior season (played first three games). He missed seven games with a broken hand in 2018, but returned to help the Wildcats to a second national championship in three seasons.
In his senior season, Booth averaged 18.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, earning Big East Conference first team honors. He was the ninth player in Villanova history with 1,500 points and 300 assists.
Booth was named “Big 5” Player of the Year, given to the top college player in Philadelphia, which has Division I programs LaSalle, Pennsylvania (Penn), St. Joseph’s and Temple. Booth’s father was a standout prep player in Philadelphia before helping turn Coppin State, a small Historically Black College/University (HBCU) in West Baltimore, into a NCAA Tournament participant in the early 1990s.
“Where I came from, you couldn’t afford to go to Villanova,” said Booth Sr., who played at Northeast High. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that my son would go play at Villanova.”
Booth played in a school-record 148 games (128-20) for Villanova, and the Big East Tournament MVP in 2019. But the numbers and championships pale in comparison to what Booth meant to the program.
“There’s very few guys that are really well-respected for their competitiveness and toughness, and well-liked also. Usually you find one or the other. But he’s really rare,” said Wildcats coach Jay Wright. “The guys love him, they just love him, but on the court he’ll go after anybody.”
“Five years seems like a long time coming back, but once the season starts every year, it flies by and the next thing you know, you’re done with your senior year,” said Booth. “That’s just how it goes. You learn a lot. You learn how things go around here and you just love the experience.”
Booth played with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2019 NBA Summer League after going undrafted in the NBA Draft. He signed a contract with Washington Wizards in the summer of 2019, but was waived during preseason camp.
Booth was assigned to the Capital City Go-Go, the Wizards’ G League affiliate. He averaged 11.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the 2019-20 season. The Go-Go opted not to participate in the G League bubble format (all games played at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando) for the 2020-21 campaign, and Booth was acquired by the Oklahoma City Blue in February.
Booth averaged 8.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists in six games for the Oklahoma City Thunder affiliate.
“There’s a different speed to the game. It’s more physical,” Booth said. “Guys are better, more athletic. It’s just a different style.”