With his father nearby filling the car with gas, Askia Booker stood outside of a Chevron station late at night in the Los Angeles suburbs.

Booker, his cousin and his friend were attempting to get something to drink on their way home from a visit to Universal Studios.

"Next thing you know, you see a red Jeep pull up and three guys hop out with hand guns," said Booker, who believes he was 17 at the time.

The men in the Jeep wanted to know who Booker and his friends were, why they were there, etc. Booker's father stepped in and "basically just saved us," but it was another reminder to Booker that he needed a change.

"I don't wish that lifestyle on anybody," said Booker, now 20. "That night was just one of the nights where I was like, 'Yeah, I need to just stick with this basketball stuff because you could lose your life out here.'"

After that night, he rededicated himself once again to the sport he loves, knowing that more time in the gym could lead to a better path.

More than three years later, Booker is far from the streets of Los Angeles. Tuesday he left for Orlando, Fla., where, on Thursday, he and the Colorado Buffaloes (23-11) will face Pittsburgh (25-9) in the second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Tip-off is scheduled for 11:40 a.m. MDT from the Amway Center.

As it was after his trip to Universal Studios, the basketball gym has always been a safe haven for Booker.

Colorado's junior point guard has lived a unique life that has taken him from the tough streets of Inglewood, Calif., to the fresh air of Boulder.

Growing up, he witnessed violence and crime that many have only seen in movies or on television. On the court, he was told he wasn't quite good enough at times. He's struggled through school and with personal issues. Since arriving at CU, he's earned a lot of fans, but also a lot of detractors. His productivity — which has come and gone at times — has been a target of anxious fans.

Through it all, Booker has always turned to the gym to get him through, and so far he has done well.

"He's had to overcome a lot of things in his life," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "He's a terrific kid. He's a battler, he's tough. He's got a competitiveness about him that makes him special."

Booker was born and raised in Inglewood. His parents — Daniele Ricardo and Toussaint Booker — were never married, but remain close to this day. Booker still leans on his parents, talking to them daily. His parents, as well as older brother Rene Johnson, have been the rocks in his life.

Booker's parents raised him the best they could, but living in that part of the country, it was impossible to shield their son from all the negativity.

"I've seen it all, heard it all — even stuff my mother and my father don't know that I've seen," Booker said. "You see people get robbed, you see shootings. It's a lot of gang violence where I'm from. We just try to stay out of that and avoid it the best you can, but sometimes there's just days where it finds you, and you have to just figure out how you're going to get out and how you're going to survive."