Booth's number is up today at Cole Terps senior's jersey to hang next to Smith's in home-finale ceremony

February 22, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- As freshman roommates and teammates at the University of Maryland, Keith Booth and Joe Smith talked about many things. Having their jerseys hanging from the rafters of Cole Field House some day wasn't one of them.

"As a young player, you don't even think about something like that," Booth said earlier this week. "You just go out and play."

Booth and Smith haven't been together since the former All-American and 1995 national Player of the Year left for the NBA after his sophomore year, but they will be forever linked in the hearts, minds and eyes of Maryland fans.

Today, some 14,500 of them will see Booth's No. 22 jersey unfurled from the ceiling right next to Smith's No. 32. The ceremony will take place before Maryland's 4 p.m. game against North Carolina.

"To be honored like this on Senior Day is special," Booth said. "But every college player wants to go out with a win in his last home game."

Booth will be the the third player to have his number honored since Gary Williams became coach eight years ago, the 11th overall. Walt Williams saw his jersey -- No. 42 -- hung after his last home game in 1992. Smith returned last season during his rookie year with the Golden State Warriors.

(Unlike other schools, Maryland doesn't retire numbers. Johnny Rhodes wore the same No. 15 as John Lucas. Kurtis Shultz had the same No. 55 as Albert King. And freshman LaRon Cephus, who is redshirting, is wearing Smith's No. 32.)

While Walt Williams was honored as much for his loyalty in staying with a program ripped apart by NCAA probation as he was for his memorable senior year, and Smith for being possibly the best player in Maryland history, Booth will be remembered differently.

"When Keith announced he was coming here, a lot of people [in Baltimore] were telling him that he was making a mistake," Gary Williams said. "The positive image people now have on this campus of our team has a lot do with what they think of Keith."

Said Booth: "Nobody could give me a reason why I shouldn't come here, except what happened to Coach [Bob] Wade and Ernie [Graham]. I had to do what was best for me."

It proved to be a sound decision for Booth and fortuitous for the Terps. Booth is the seventh player in school history to score in double figures in each of his four seasons, and will be the fourth to play in four straight NCAA tournaments.

A player whom Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins called "one of the my favorites" -- that was the day before the 6-foot-6 forward scorched the Yellow Jackets for 26 points in a 76-68 victory -- has turned out to be one of the best all-around and most selfless performers in school history.

Booth approaches today's ceremony just as he does everything else, with the stoicism he has demonstrated since his first game.

He lets his mother, Norma Salmon, show the emotion for the family. When the letter came to her home in East Baltimore this week officially saying that her son's jersey would be honored, Salmon became more than a little excited.

"It was amazing to see it," said Salmon, who'll be joined today by about 25 family and friends. "My heart started racing really fast. Saturday is going to be some day. But the one thing I can't believe is how fast the four years have gone."

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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