History will recall Booth as a talented peacemaker

February 21, 1997|By John Eisenberg

Keith Booth will leave a legacy of basketball excellence at Maryland, a legacy made permanent and easy for all to appreciate when Booth's jersey is retired before his last game at Cole Field House tomorrow.

Four trips to the NCAA tournament, a high place on many of the school's all-time statistical lists, a senior season in which he carried the Terps to a 20-win season -- those are some of the tangible results of Booth's four-year career.

He has done more than any player other than Joe Smith to revive a program that had collapsed under the weight of tragedy and scandal.

His greatest contribution, however, may be a part of his legacy that is intangible, unseen and vital to the Terps' continued success.

Booth, the former Dunbar star, will be remembered as the player who reopened Maryland for Baltimore's high school stars.

By himself, he closed the long-open wound that had prevented the Terps from using a source that should have been one of their greatest assets.

Before Booth committed to Maryland in 1992, against the wishes of many in East Baltimore, the Terps weren't an option for Baltimore's best players.

Four years later, Terps coach Gary Williams is all but living off Baltimore talent, with Booth and Rodney Elliott in uniform, Calvert Hall's Juan Dixon signed to a scholarship and St. Frances' Mark Karcher down to a choice among the Terps, Villanova, Rutgers, Miami and Seton Hall.

It's as if the Terps are trying to make up for those years when Reggie Williams, Muggsy Bogues, Duane Ferrell and Sam Cassell went elsewhere.

Karcher, a blue-chipper, has come to many of the Terps' home games this season. After making a game-winning shot in the Charm City Classic earlier this month, he stood on the court waving his arms in encouragement to a crowd chanting "Maryland! Maryland! Maryland!"

If he winds up a Terp, give Booth a lot of the credit.

Karcher, from East Baltimore, is exactly the kind of kid who never would have gone to Maryland before Booth.

Just the fact that he is considering the Terps so seriously is evidence of Booth's impact.

The bad blood between Maryland and Baltimore began with Ernie Graham, the Dunbar star who played for Maryland from 1978-81. Fairly or not, East Baltimore's basketball nation blamed the school when Graham, a major talent, failed to graduate or become an NBA star.

Things got worse when Dunbar's Bob Wade was hired to coach the Terps in the late '80s and wound up getting the program put on probation.

Booth has admitted he heard many voices telling him to go

anywhere but Maryland.

The Terps are fortunate that he was brave enough not to heed those voices, and not just because he has given the Terps four of the toughest, most productive seasons ever seen at Cole.

Now, thanks to Booth, it is impossible for anyone to say Maryland isn't an appropriate environment for a Baltimore player.

The logic behind that thinking was absurd to begin with, and now it's just outdated.

Booth has helped Maryland, and Maryland has helped Booth.

With Williams guiding his development, his per-game scoring and rebounding averages have risen in each of his four seasons. His turnover and personal foul totals have dropped.

His career free-throw shooting percentage has risen a solid 10 percent in four years.

His jump shot still isn't close to what he wants, or what he needs to excel in the NBA, but it's far better than it was.

Regardless if he makes the NBA, he will have a luminous college career to savor.

That he was endowed with a special collection of skills became evident when he was a freshman starter.

That he was capable of carrying a team became evident last season, after Smith left and Booth raised his game, averaging 17 points in ACC play despite giving away height almost every night.

That he was one of Maryland's best players ever became evident this year; his resourcefulness around the basket and his leadership by example have been key ingredients in the Terps' surprising success.

He will play before the home crowd for the last time tomorrow, on a day when, fittingly, he will set the school record for consecutive starts.

The standing ovation will be long, loud and deserved.

Few Maryland players have left such a large footprint on the program.

That footprint will continue to grow if and when Baltimore's best high school players continue to follow Keith Booth to Maryland.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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