GARY — The gravity weighed heavily on the shoulders of Tyree Booker a few years ago. It was 24/7. The crime and shootings in his old neighborhood in Harvey across the state line had hope running into the sunset.


It affected him in the classroom. It kept his feet on the floor on the basketball court, even getting cut two years in a row in middle school.

“Like every kid I went home and cried,” said Booker, a 6-foot-5 senior forward on 21st Century’s boys basketball team. “I had people tell me I was tall for no reason.”

His family relocated in Northwest Indiana and Booker’s life changed. And it had little to do with basketball at first.

“He was in our building for about three weeks before I knew he was here,” 21st Century coach Rodney Williams said. “I asked him if he’d ever played basketball and told him to come out for the team last year. He wasn’t very good when he got here.”

After being cut in middle school, former NFL player Tai Streets started working with Booker as a freshman at Thornton, and again as a sophomore. But during his 10th grade year, he went up for a dunk and crashed into a door that fractured his shoulder and his season was done. That’s why the rust was still on Booker a year ago. But not no more.

He’ll take a 10.8 points per game scoring average along with a 9.7 rebounding average into Saturday’s Class A Triton Regional, where the No. 7 Cougars (18-6) will play the host Trojans (18-7) in the 9 a.m. semifinal.

“Eugene (German) really got me to come out for the team here,” Booker said. “But I had to prove myself being the new guy. We had a hard year. We didn’t make it out of sectionals. But we all worked really hard over the summer to get ready for this year. It’s amazing having the best player in the state (German) open his arms up to me like that.”

Now on the A-B Honor Roll, Booker plans on studying engineering in college, where he wants to continue his rags to riches hoops game. But that focus is in the future. This week 21st Century is only thinking about Triton, winners of 10 sectionals since 2000 with nine of them coming on its home floor. The Trojans have won five regionals in that time span, all coming at home.

Triton has won four semistates since 2008, winning the 2008 state championship.

“They’re deliberate with the basketball, they play good defense,” Williams said. “They’re only giving up 40 points a game and they’re scoring 52 a game. It’s a good-shooting team. We’re going to have to get them to play our tempo.”

German, the state’s leading scorer at 33.3 points per game, isn’t far below the team average Triton is giving up.

Booker, known as “Big Ree” to his teammates, knows Triton will be tough. But what he’s seen in his life there is nothing that will cause him to cower in the face of this challenge.

“Being where I’m from I never saw myself doing anything,” Booker said. “I dreamed of things but a lot of people don’t see their dreams come true. But I dreamed of this (sectional) championship. I know dreams come true.

“I like doing big things.”

And that’s what Saturday will be — big.

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