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Essence Booker explains what it'll feel like to play Nevada now that she's at UNLV

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Essence Booker is transferring from Ball State to her hometown school, UNLV. (Byrne Photo/Nevada Athletics)

It's not often an athlete plays on both sides of the Nevada and UNLV rivalry. Las Vegas native Essence Booker will soon add her name to that list after recently signing with UNLV after beginning her college career at Nevada.

After playing two seasons for the Wolf Pack and leading the team in scoring during her sophomore year, Booker transferred to Ball State. It was in the Midwest where Booker learned how important home was to her, which led to her return to the Silver State.

"Going all the way to Indiana obviously was a risk for me just because I am a family person," Booker said on Tuesday's NSN Daily. "I felt I would have been comfortable there and been able to accomplish my goals anywhere, and I still believe that. But I think COVID definitely played a big role into me missing home. Just at this point in our lives right now, you never know when someone can be gone with this virus. We don't know anything. So me coming home, definitely every time I visited, I appreciated it more and more, and now being able to establish and be back home, I'm definitely very grateful."

While Booker didn't grow up rooting for her hometown school, she's excited for the opportunity to suit up and represent Las Vegas. She's looking forward to playing in front of her family on a regular basis.

"I've always dreamed about being able to play in front of my little sisters and in front of my family on a big stage," said Booker, a graduate of Spring Valley High in southwest Las Vegas. "I'm all about putting Las Vegas on the map, putting our city on the map, so it's definitely been a dream that way. But I've never been a huge UNLV fan. I never experienced wanting to really wear Scarlet Red, but I'm committed now. I'm 110 percent in in."

Even when she played at Nevada from 2018-20, it was difficult for family to come to games. But playing in the city she grew up in fixed that issue.

"My mom works like every day," Booker said. "I feel like my two years at Reno, she probably made at least three games, I'd count on one hand, which I respect. She's a hard-working woman. So being at home, she could come right from work and come watch some of the games. My dad as well. He has a disability, so me being in the same city and him being able to come, I'm really excited about that."

In Booker's lone season at Ball State, she played through an injury to appear in 13 games, averaging 10.9 points per game while shooting 36.7 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from three. Booker said a handful of the schools reached out to her when she most recently entered the transfer portal. But they were far from Las Vegas, so it was an easy decision to transfer to UNLV when she got a call from Rebels second-year head coach Lindy La Rocque, who also grew up in Las Vegas and played at Durango High before playing at Stanford.

Booker said she didn't have any previous experience with La Rocque despite both growing up in Las Vegas.

"My first time ever talking to Coach Lindy was over the phone," Booker said. "Immediately when I talked to her we were on the same page about what we wanted to do and that's win a championship. She's very straightforward about that, so I think I'm definitely going to fit into her program well."

During Booker's sophomore year at Nevada, she was named an All-Mountain West honorable mention after averaging a a team-high 12.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.0 steals in 2019-20. While next season is seven months away, Booker said she's already talked to some of her friends at Nevada about when they play against each other next year.

"Obviously I still have friends who attend there, and we've had a few conversations over the phone already about us playing against each other," Booker said. "It's gonna be a heated rivalry game for sure, just because all the emotion I have from playing for both sides. Obviously when I went to Reno, I had a lot of hatred for UNLV. It just comes with playing. But now being able to come home, this is my home city so I have to do what I got to do."

Booker said her two years at Nevada taught her how to adapt to various circumstances on and off the court and were pivotal in her growth not only as a player but as a person.

"Despite me transferring from Reno, I never had bestowed any hatred toward the school or the coaching staff or anything," Booker said. "It just wasn't an ultimate great fit for me. From Nevada, I was able to adapt to whatever circumstance hit me. I was still at Nevada when COVID became a thing. I was entering the transfer portal and everything, but I think one big thing that I got from Nevada being at Reno was learning how to adapt, going from sunny days here to the snow. Then obviously being a freshman, my first year there and having to adapt to the college life compared to high school. I definitely felt like that skill helped me further in life not only even on basketball but outside of basketball."

Booker said she's looking forward to returning to the MW where she's comfortable with the cities she'll play in and the competition she'll face.

"To be honest, the Mountain West Conference is probably the best conference I played in," Booker said. "The Mid-American Conference was a great conference, too, but due to my injury I didn't play in as many games as I wanted to. But the Mountain West Conference is definitely competitive and fun, so being able to play and be familiar with the majority of the teams, I think I have an advantage that way, but I definitely think I'm going to have fun."

You can watch Essence Booker's full NSN Daily interview below.

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