Ever since the days he would sit wide-eyed, watching the late Len Bias play, Keith Booth has been enamored of the Maryland Terrapins. So those close to the Dunbar star weren't surprised when he announced his college choice.
"I would like to thank all the colleges that considered me," Booth said during a noon news conference yesterday. "I've come to the conclusion -- from talking to Coach Pete Pompey and my family -- that I'd like to attend the University of Maryland next year."
Booth showed a flair for the dramatic in making his announcement just hours before Dunbar played its Class 1A state semifinal game on what will be his home floor -- Maryland's Cole Field House. A 6-foot-7, 210-pound All-American considered to be one of the most versatile players in the country, Booth picked Maryland over Duke, Kentucky and Towson State.
"Maryland is a program on the rise," Booth said. "Players there want to win. Since the ninth grade I've been successful in winning championships, and I hope I can do it on the college level."
Because of NCAA rules that prohibit coaches from talking about recruits before they are signed, Maryland coach Gary Williams -- whose team lost to top-ranked North Carolina yesterday in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament -- declined to comment.
The successful recruiting of Booth is a major coup for the Terrapins, who were able to get an oral commitment from Booth despite a strained relationship between Dunbar and Maryland.
Hard feelings at Dunbar stem from the firing of Bob Wade as Maryland coach in 1989 and the treatment of Ernest Graham, the last Dunbar High player to attend Maryland for basketball. He played from 1978 to 1981, but never graduated.
"We know there have been some problems," Dunbar coach Pete Pompey said. "Gary Williams and I have talked, and I've told him exactly the way I feel about things. Hopefully the things that I disagree with will be corrected."
Pompey wouldn't go into specifics, and Booth said the rift is history.
"By making a decision to go to Maryland, to me the Dunbar-Maryland conflict is over," Booth said. "If I'm a success on the court as well as off the court, maybe it'll open up the pipeline to younger kids."
Booth's announcement ended a recruitment process that intensified just over two weeks ago when he announced he had the necessary SAT score to be eligible to play as a freshman under NCAA rules. Booth had narrowed his choices to four schools, but other schools attempted to sneak into the picture at the last minute.
"It got around the country that 'Keith Booth is good,' " Booth said. "All the coaches started to push up real hard once they found out that I was qualified. But I had my final four, and that was it."
After visiting Lexington, Ky., earlier this year, Booth returned home talking about attending Kentucky. During a trip to Durham, N.C., two weeks ago, he hung out with Grant Hill and Thomas Hill and decided he was leaning toward Duke. But College Park's proximity to Baltimore -- and the fact that Booth is a longtime Terps fan -- apparently won out.
"He's been a Maryland person since he's been here," Pompey said. "He wasn't even going to look at other schools. But I convinced him he needed to look at something else so he could have something to compare with. He thought it all the way through, and he decided to stay home."
Booth's mother, Norma Salmon, also knew where her son would go long before he made it official.
"I knew which way he was leaning; a mother just knows," Salmon said. "I had a preference, but I'm not going to say what it was. But all of the programs were wonderful."
They were also relentless.
"I got so many calls from people saying he should go here or there," said Salmon, who received a visit from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Tuesday. "There were about 12 to 15 people who called [Thursday night] before I just said 'enough' and turned the ringer off."
Asked whether the fact that Dunbar was playing for a state title on the home court of the Terrapins played any part in the timing of his announcement, Booth said no.
"I just decided it was time," Booth said. "Now I can concentrate playing for a state championship.
"Making the decision [yesterday] might seem awkward, but that had nothing to do with it," he added. "We're talking about a decision that's dealing with the next four years of my life. I'm going to be here in my home state, and I'm hoping to have a successful college career."
Terps' recruiting class
In addition to an oral commitment from Dunbar's Keith Booth, Maryland has signed two players for next season. The Terps have one more scholarship available.
Player ... ... ... Ht. ... ... Wt. ... ... Pos. ... ... ... Hometown
Keith Booth .. ... 6-7 ... ... 210 ... ... G/F .. ... .. .. Baltimore
* Nick Bosnick ... 6-7 ... ... 205 ... ... G/F .. ... .. .. Uniontown, Pa.
* Joe Smith ... .. 6-9 ... ... 230 ... ... F ... ... ... .. Norfolk, Va.
* -- Signed during early signing period in November