Phil Booth (above) missed all but the first three games of the 2016-17 season due to a lingering knee injury. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season, click here.)
Never in his life had Phil Booth spent so much time away from basketball.
The Baltimore product missed just a game or two with a twisted ankle during his days at Mount Saint Joseph (Md.) High School. When he got to Villanova, he played in all 76 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
But Booth, who was Villanova’s leading scorer in the 2016 national championship game, struggled through the first three games of the Wildcats’ 2016-17 campaign with a left knee injury before it forced him to sit the last 33 contests.
“I missed the game tremendously,” Booth said. “There’s a lot of games I wanted to be out there, even though I wasn’t physically capable. It was just hard getting ready for that game day knowing you had to put a suit on instead of getting ready to play. It makes you miss the game, makes you appreciate it and makes you want to go out there for sure.”
Booth had arthroscopic surgery on his knee in May 2016 and recovered in time to start the 2016-17 season. He played in three games, averaging 5.7 points and two assists in 24 minutes of action per contest before the pain became too much to bear.
There was some hope he would come back and join the Wildcats for another NCAA Tournament run, but time ran out and Booth eventually took a medical redshirt.
Booth played his final game of the season on Nov. 17, 2016 against Western Michigan. He described the injury situation as “tricky” and said it tested his patience. He had a second arthroscopic surgery on the same knee in June and spent the summer shooting and lifting. The 6-foot-3 guard finally returned to the court this fall.
“I was like a little kid again,” Booth said. “You’ve been out of the game so long, you missed it. You get to play 5-on-5, especially with your teammates, your brothers. There’s nothing better than that.”
As a sophomore in 2015-16, Booth averaged 7.1 ppg and 2.1 apg. He scored 20 points in the Wildcats’ win against North Carolina in the national championship.
Booth, a former ESPN Top 100 recruit, was poised for more minutes in 2016-17 before his knee injuries. He he feels more athletic than he ever has after strengthening his legs during the rehabilitation process, and his teammates concur.
“He looks bouncier than when he first got here,” redshirt-junior wing Mikal Bridges said. “Maybe his vert went up. I feel like everything else, his shooting ability, his defensive ability is still there. I feel like he got better.”
Booth missed Villanova’s Blue & White scrimmages while dealing with tendinitis in his knee. He and coach Jay Wright have both said it was just precautionary, as the Wildcats were off the next few days practice for fall break anyway. Booth returned to practice last week and said he is fully healthy.
“I’m not really too worried about it during the season,” Booth said of the tendinitis. “It’s something I’ll think about when need be, but right now I feel pretty good.”
If Booth’s knee acts up at some point in the season and he is not able to play, the Wildcats have don’t have much depth at point guard. Junior Jalen Brunson is a very experienced ball handler, but sophomore Donte DiVincenzo is more familiar playing off the ball and Bridges plays more of forward role for the Wildcats.
A Booth injury would also likely open up more minutes for freshman Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Gillespie, a 6-foot-3 guard from Archbishop Wood, is the premier ball handler of the three.
“I think all three of our freshmen are important because of that, because you never know when Phil might be struggling with that,” Wright said. “All three of them, and the versatility of the other guys, make it such that it doesn’t have to be Collin, it’d be nice if it’s Collin, but it doesn’t have to be, other guys can step in and we can move guys into Phil’s spot.”