Keith Booth: The end of another Maryland era
Amid the sudden announcement of Gary Williams' retirement last Thursday and the emotional ceremony the following day, another era of Maryland basketball is apparently coming to a much quieter end this week with Mark Turgeon's arrival in College Park. Can we hear one more chorus of "Boooooooooooth"?
Keith Booth was a symbol himself, going back to when he was a McDonald's All-American at Dunbar and became, in the fall of 1994, the first big-time local recruit to join Williams at Maryland. The pipeline to Baltimore's talent had seemingly dried up and rusted after Bob Wade, a local high school legend himself, had been fired a month before Williams returned to his alma mater in 1989.
Starting his first game as a freshman in the now-famous win over Georgetown at USAir Arena -- and not missing a game or even a practice over four years -- Booth was one of the most productive and prideful players ever to wear a Maryland uniform.
Overshadowed his first two years by Joe Smith, Booth became an All-American as a senior. He finished his career in the top 10 in three categories -- points, rebounds and steals -- and at the top of the heap in one -- heart.
The next few years were a rollercoaster for Booth: a surprise late first-round draft choice of the defending-champion Chicago Bulls, Booth's game never expanded and he was gone as soon as his three-year contract expired. It took him awhile to get over the disappointment and find a job he loved as much as being a Terp.
It's no surprise that it happened when Booth became a Terp again, this time as one of Williams' assistant coaches in 2004. He loved being back at Maryland, and so did the fans, who serenaded him with the same pregame exultation that they had when he played.
The success he had as a tough, hard-nosed post presence -- who made a living taking on bigger players and typically got most of his points on rebound follows, breakaway dunks and at the free-throw line (where he still holds the Maryland record for free throws made) -- translated to his new job in the way he tutored the likes of James Gist, Bambale Osby and Jordan Williams.
But he, like Gary Williams, was an old-school kind of guy who never quite found his niche in the kiss-their-butts world of recruiting.
As Turgeon puts his new staff together, Booth appears to be the odd man out.
"I'll be all right," Booth told me the day Turgeon was introduced.
I'm hopeful that Booth, one of the classiest Terps ever to wear a Maryland uniform, will find another job that will mean as much to him as putting on his old No. 22 jersey when he was a player or sitting on the bench as a coach the past few years. I can see someone in Williams' coaching tree -- or even Williams himself -- trying to help Booth find another coaching job.
While it won't be the same as seeing Booth on the sideline at Comcast Center, I think he could be even more vital to a program by developing talent than he is at recruiting talent. I think he would be great at a place like Loyola or Towson or even Morgan State, recruiting kids with similar backgrounds, though not nearly with the same the skill set or drive or killer instinct he once possessed.
I also think he could be a great asset to an NBA team, though his own pro career stalled quickly. How many times have you seen games where the footwork of some 7-foot millionaire is as graceful as a sixth-grader at a middle-school dance?
Or maybe it's time for Booth to work in the community from which he came, sharing his values and his visions with similar Baltimore kids.
Just as Kevin Anderson said he hopes Williams remains on the scene as an ambassador, a fundraiser and an adviser, I would hope that Booth, if he doesn't find his way onto some other coach's staff or out in the community, sticks around Maryland is a similar role. Maybe working with Troy Wainwright, Williams' former basketball operations director, in the M Club.
But if not, if Booth's ties to the Terps are cut, if it's time for him to move on with the rest of his life at age 36, then I would hope that Maryland fans will celebrate his career, too, as a player and later as an assistant coach. Bobby Cremins, in his best Bronxese, used to say that of the undersized power forward, "Keet Boot, he's one of my favorite playas."
Truth be told, Booth was one of my favorite players even though he was difficult to quote accurately because he talked too fast.
So let's hear it once more for old time's sake.
Photo credits: Baltimore Sun