Booth to stay home at Maryland The message is clear: Terps land the player they need to contend

March 13, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As the clock ticked toward noon yesterday, the assistant coaches on the University of Maryland basketball team paced the hallways at Charlotte Coliseum like nervous fathers awaiting the birth of their first child.

In this case, they were waiting for the news that could signal the rebirth of a program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in five years: the oral commitment from Dunbar All-American Keith Booth to play his college career for the Terrapins.

When the word came from Baltimore that Booth had made his decision official -- or as official as it can be before the April 14 national signing date -- there were smiles and handshakes and more than a few sighs of relief among the members of the coaching staff.

When Maryland coach Gary Williams arrived after a mostly sleepless night for his team's quarterfinal game against top-ranked North Carolina, he was told about Booth. The Maryland coach pumped his fist as if he had just beaten one of college basketball's powers. Actually, he had beaten two -- Duke and Kentucky.

That Booth chose the Terps over the Blue Devils and Wildcats was significant, considering what Maryland has gone through lately. Probation took several blue-chip players, including Wake Forest guard Ran- dolph Childress. Admissions rejected Lawrence Moten and Donyell Marshall, who are all-Big East players at Syracuse and Connecticut, respectively.

That Booth will become the first Dunbar basketball player since Ernie Graham to go to Maryland certainly will close the wound that has been festering for more than a decade between the state's most successful high school program and the state's only major-conference team.

But let's not get carried away: Booth is a positive symbol for a potentially brighter future in College Park, but he is not the savior. He is not the Tom McMillen of his generation, as has been suggested. He is 6 feet 7, not 6-11. He is among the top 25 players in the country, not the national player of the year.

"I am not going to Maryland to be a superstar," Booth said at his news conference yesterday. "I'm just going there to fill a role."

It would be unfair to Booth to say that he will even lead the Terps back to the NCAA tournament next season.

Maryland still needs to bring in a couple of big men -- 6-10, 250-pound bangers with nasty attitudes should call Williams' office immediately -- to give the Terps a chance to move up in the ACC.

"We need to get meaner on defense," Williams said recently.

Booth is clearly not that kind of player. But add him to a team that already includes two terrific talents in freshmen Exree Hipp and Johnny Rhodes and to a recruiting class that already has 6-9 Joe Smith, and you have the makings of the kind of team Williams envisioned when he came from Ohio State four years ago.

It's probably just as important that Maryland did not lose Booth. If he had succumbed to the pressure exerted from some in his community not to go to Maryland, it would have been a major blow to a program that has lived much of the past seven years under a black cloud.

Those who are trying to figure out what position Booth will play next year -- stop. Williams hasn't made that decision yet. There was a time not so long ago that he was tempted to move Rhodes to the point, but the recent play of freshman Duane Simpkins might have made Williams rethink his plans.

But Booth will start -- probably as a wing player -- that much seems certain. You don't recruit a player for three years, build your whole coaching future around him, and then bring him off the bench. Williams talked a couple of years ago of patterning the Terps after the Illinois team of a couple of years back, a team that made the Final Four with more quickness and athletic ability than size and strength.

In accordance with one of the NCAA's more archaic rules, neither Williams nor his players could talk about Booth's announcement yesterday. Nor could they hide their obvious glee. At places like Duke and North Carolina, this kind of news happens every year. Maybe two or three times a year.

At Maryland, it hasn't happened in awhile.

It only seems like forever.

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