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Keith Booth On Choosing Maryland, Memorable Moments With Terps And More

June 3, 2019
In 1993, when Keith Booth became the first player from Baltimore to commit to the Maryland men's basketball program after legendary Dunbar coach Bob Wade left his post as Maryland's head coach in 1989, it was because College Park, Md., was where Booth's heart was.

One of the people who encouraged Booth to follow his heart was none other than Wade, who coached at Maryland from 1986-1989 following the death of Len Bias and resignation of Lefty Driesell. Wade compiled a 36-50 record as the Terps' head coach and resigned amid an investigation into the program regarding NCAA rules violations. 

"As a high school kid, people think you'd be bitter about what happened and things like that, but no, Coach Wade was one of my biggest supporters from day one," Booth said on Glenn Clark Radio May 24. "As a high school kid, he told me, 'You make the decision that's best for you,' because he watched me grow up as a player, as a youngster when I first started playing the game."

Booth, who starred at Dunbar, said the final three schools he was considering were Maryland, Duke and Kentucky, but when it came time to announce his decision to attend Maryland, he couldn't find a Terps hat anywhere in Baltimore to wear to his announcement. But no matter, Booth was living his dream. A huge fan of Bias as a kid, Booth was about to play for the program he grew up rooting for.

"When I made that decision, I did it from the bottom of my heart. I went with my heart, something that Coach Wade told me, something that my mom always told me," Booth, 44, said. "You go with your heart, and my heart has always been with Maryland, growing up a big Len Bias fan and watching guys like Walt Williams. I just made a decision, it was easy for me. I just went with my heart and made the decision that was best for me."

When Booth arrived in College Park in 1993, the Terps were fresh off three years of probation stemming from transgressions during the Wade era. Maryland was barred from appearing on television during 1990-91 season, and the Terps were banned from postseason play in 1991 and 1992 as well. Maryland was also docked scholarships. 

The penalties were handed down during Gary Williams' first season as head coach in 1989-90. The Terps went 61-57 during Williams' first four seasons.

Maryland reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1988 during Booth's first season, the beginning of a run in which the Terps made 11 consecutive trips to the Big Dance. In addition to Booth, Maryland's 1993-94 squad included dynamic freshman center Joe Smith and talented sophomores Exree Hipp, Johnny Rhoades and Duane Simpkins.

The first game of the season -- an 84-83 win against Georgetown at the Capital Centre on national television -- is credited with putting Maryland back on the college hoops map.

"It made us believe. We were a young team, we started freshmen and sophomores. It was the first game of the year, think about that," Booth said. "Duane had a huge game, Joe Smith had a huge game, I played well. Everybody played well. It took all of us to win that game, including the coaches, including Kurtis Shultz, who came off the bench and got a huge steal that everybody kind of forgets."

"That win meant a great deal to us as a team, us as a university and for the state of Maryland as a whole," Booth added.

Booth's teams reached the Sweet 16 in 1994 and 1995 but lost in the first round of the tournament in 1996 and 1997. Those teams combined to go 82-44, and Booth averaged 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals throughout his four-year career. He was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bulls in 1997.

Booth's four years produced the first indelible images of the Williams era, beginning with the win against Georgetown. Booth had a game-winning dunk against Duke at Cole Field House in January 1995, and Joe Smith had the game-clinching block moments later to ice Maryland's first win against Duke in 16 tries. Booth assisted on Laron Profit's buzzer-beater at Wake Forest in January 1997 to beat a Demon Deacons team with Tim Duncan.    

Booth cherished the opportunity he had to play in the old ACC.

"I lived it. As a coach, as a player especially, you go into the Dean Smith, you go into Cameron Indoor, you're looking up in the rafters, you watched this on TV, you watched all the great players on both teams that helped build rivalries and now all of a sudden you're a part of it? Oh, yeah, you feel it," Booth said. "You understand the moment. You understand what it means. For me during that time playing in the ACC, I understood what that meant not only for myself, but for my teammates and the University of Maryland."

Booth was an assistant coach under Williams from 2004-2011, and the Terps made three NCAA Tournaments during that time. Booth was an assistant at Loyola, first with the women's team and then the men's team, from 2011-2018. He's now the head coach of the boys' varsity team at Dunbar, where he'll surely pass on lessons taught to him by Williams, who won 461 games and a national title at Maryland.

"We want our kids to come out every day, whether it's in athletics or just as young men and women growing up, we want them to understand the importance of taking no days for granted. That was Coach Williams' whole approach," Booth said. "It was never anything where we verbally got into it, because I understood that the love was there. I understood that there was always a respect factor, the fact that I'm the player and he's the coach."

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

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics