Booth is Terps' minute man

February 16, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- The category in Keith Booth's statistical line that often can be correlated to Maryland's success isn't his ,, points or rebounds, his assists or steals. It's the minutes he has played.

Which means Booth's presence, or absence, will be important tonight when Maryland (13-7, 6-5) plays Wake Forest (16-7, 6-4) in an 8 p.m. Atlantic Coast Conference game at Cole Field House. Maybe more than any other player's, Booth's foul trouble has become a factor for the Terrapins.

When Booth plays 30 minutes or more, which usually means the 6-foot-6 freshman forward has stayed out of foul trouble, the Terrapins are 7-2. When Booth plays 25 minutes or less, which means he is on the bench more than Gary Williams wants, Maryland is 2-4.

"Earlier in the year, I was getting into more foul trouble because I was trying to be aggressive," Booth said yesterday. "I began to realize that you could get away with a lot of things in high school that you can't get away with in the ACC. Now I'm trying to play smart as well as aggressive."

Said Williams: "The fouling is a competitive reaction. I'm sure in high school, you could take the ball away from a guy in those situations. But the players at this level are too good, and the refs don't like players doing that in the backcourt."

The former Dunbar star turned that aggressiveness into dominance last Saturday at Florida State. With fellow freshman Joe Smith on the bench in foul trouble, Booth took over the game down the stretch and helped Maryland to a 69-66 victory.

Booth did it despite picking up four fouls in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but never coming out. He played 37 minutes -- the most since a 39-minute effort in overtime against Georgetown in the season opener -- and finished with 15 points )) and 11 rebounds.

"He's a tough kid," said Seminoles coach Pat Kennedy. "He reminds me of those kids who play on AAU teams in New York. They go after you. That's the way Keith is. He doesn't care if the other guy is bigger."

Said Williams: "The league is so physical, and Keith makes us a more physical team. And when we don't play as physical as we should, we can have problems."

Translation: The Terps are often in trouble when Booth isn't on the court. On a team made up almost exclusively of finesse players, Booth's game is as much blue-collar as it is blue-chip. And the roots of his game are strictly East Baltimore.

Just as he did as a young player testing his burgeoning skills in theplaygrounds and rec centers against older, more experienced players, Booth hasn't backed down to anyone this year in the ACC.

"That just comes from being a ballplayer," said Booth, who is averaging a solid 11.1 points and 6.6 rebounds. "Guys like Eric Montross are great players, but I want to be a great player, too."

Booth got his first taste of what this season would be like at the Urban Coalition League in Washington during the three summers before he came to Maryland.

He played with a number of former Dunbar stars, including Sam Cassell, Kurk Lee and Muggsy Bogues, on a "Baltimore's Finest" team that has dominated the league. Before his senior year at Dunbar, Booth was named the league's most valuable player.

"The first year, I walked into the gym and saw guys like Johnny Newman and Manute Bol," Booth said with a smile. "I had a little bit of the jitters, but I felt like I had nothing to lose. I went back home and told my mother some of the things I had done and she said, 'Sure you did.' The other guys had to tell her it was true.

"When I was growing up, I was playing against my uncles or some of the other older guys. You had guys like Sam Cassell and rTC Skip Wise. There isn't that much of a difference, but you don't have too many 7-footers like Eric Montross around Baltimore."

Booth has begun to expand his offensive game, looking more confident from the outside as well. After starting the season 2-for-8 on three-pointers, Booth is now a 9-for-19, best among Maryland's starters.

It wouldn't hurt if Booth could be as tall as he plays, which is around 6-8. But his major growth spurt came five years ago -- five inches over one summer -- so Booth expects to play the rest of his career around the same size.

"The only thing that's going to grow," he said, "is my heart."

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