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Keith Booth: 'It's Meant For Me To Be At Dunbar High School'

May 28, 2019
Keith Booth, long a part of the Maryland basketball scene, was introduced as the head coach of the Dunbar boys' varsity basketball team at the school May 23.

Booth starred at Dunbar in the early 1990s, winning a state title under head coach Pete Pompey in 1993 before playing at Maryland from 1993-1997. Booth was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bulls in 1997 and played for the team for two years.

After his playing career, Booth began a 14-year career as an assistant coach at the college level. He coached under Gary Williams at Maryland from 2004-2011. After Williams retired, Booth became an assistant with the Loyola women's basketball team, a role he held from 2011-2013. He then transitioned to the Loyola men's staff, holding the position until 2018.

It all led back to Dunbar for Booth, a 44-year-old Baltimore native.

"You do your part day in and day out to become the best human being that you can become, and everything else is in God's hands. It's meant for me to be at Dunbar High School at this time," Booth said on Glenn Clark Radio May 24. "It's something that I'm wholeheartedly looking forward to. I understand the significance of myself coming back to the community. 

"The point I want to make is that it's not just about me becoming the next head coach at Dunbar. It's about us as a community, us as educators, us as teachers, us as coaches stepping up to the plate and holding our young men and women accountable authentically, with love."

Dunbar has won 15 state championships since 1993, the most recent coming in 2018 under Cyrus Jones Sr., who stepped down in March after 12 years leading the Poets. Prior to that, Dunbar won four straight state titles under Jones from 2010-2013. The Poets also won four straight titles from 2003-2006 under Eric Lee.

Dunbar was a national powerhouse under head coach Bob Wade in the 1980s. The Poets went 29-0 during the 1981-82 season and 31-0 in 1982-83, with Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Lewis and Reggie Williams starring on those squads. Bogues played 14 years in the NBA; Lewis, six, and Williams, 10. "Baltimore Boys," an ESPN film released last year, looked back at those teams.

Wade, who coached at Dunbar from 1975-1986, was at Booth's introductory news conference, and Booth is excited to have Wade around as a sounding board as he embarks on his newest challenge.

"I know what I have in front of me, but at the same time, it's always good when you have a foundation, when you have a great resource in coach Bob Wade," Booth said. "[He's] always been around, will always encourage me, always had great things to say to me in terms of keeping me grounded and keeping me focused on the task at hand as a former athlete and also as a coach."

Having played at Dunbar, at a high-major college program and in the NBA, Booth has traveled the path his new players want to take as well -- but it's been awhile since he played. Though Booth was part of Michael Jordan's sixth and final NBA championship, Booth joked 1998 "was before their time, they weren't even born. These kids think LeBron James is the best player to ever play the game, so that's a whole other argument that I get into with them."

Basketball debates aside, what hasn't changed throughout the years at Dunbar are the opportunities the hoops program presents to kids to develop as players and people.

"When you're coming into high school as a 14- or 15-year-old, you think you know a lot," Booth said. "But at Dunbar High School -- especially if you were a part of the basketball team, … especially when the coaches got those bricks out the first day -- you were humbled right away. You were humbled right away when you had to do those suicides with bricks in your hands. 

"When I first met with Dana Johnson -- great athletic director at Dunbar, one of the best female players to ever come out of Dunbar High School -- [she said] the bricks are still there in the same bin they were in when I played and back when Coach Wade was coaching."

Dunbar lost to Lake Clifton, 62-60, in the 1A North regional semifinals of the state playoffs in March. Lake Clifton wound up winning the state title by defeating Randallstown in the regional final, Douglass in the state semifinal and Southern in the final. 

The Poets figure to be right back in the mix in Booth's first year as the head coach.

"One of the things you do before you take any job is you want to, as a coach, be in a situation where it's a great opportunity to win," Booth said. "In order to be in a situation where you can win, it starts with a great academic school first and foremost, which Dunbar is, and it helps when you have athletic tradition in terms of winning and without question, Dunbar has that. 

"We have those things, and before I took this job, one of the things I asked myself is, 'Would I want my kid to go to Dunbar High School today? Would I send my kids to Dunbar High School today?' And after being there, meeting with the leadership, having an opportunity to meet with a search-committee panel, there's no question I would, so that's one of the reasons why I decided to accept the offer."

For more from Booth, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics