COLLEGE PARK -- On the Dunbar gymnasium court where he has performed the past four seasons, Keith Booth announced yesterday that Maryland would be his college choice.
Will his decision lead to peace between Maryland and East Baltimore? The community has carried a grudge against Maryland since the firing of Bob Wade as coach in 1989, and before that, pointed to the fact the Ernest Graham never graduated. Graham was the last Dunbar High player to attend Maryland for basketball, playing from 1978 to 1981.
"We think that Keith has made a good decision," said Ray Short, chairman of the Poet Follower Club, a group of more than a dozen fans who have followed the Dunbar basketball team since 1982. "They can't rectify the past and Keith doesn't have to carry that all on his shoulders. He has to make the decision for Keith, and we support him wherever he goes."
Of 15 Dunbar fans contacted at yesterday evening's state semifinals at Cole Field House, 13 said they felt comfortable with Booth's choice.
"That was different people in different times," Michael Milledge said before Dunbar's 122-58 victory over Fallston. "Back then there was tension, but this is a different staff and a different situation.
"I'm glad he's staying close to home, so his family and friends can get to see him play," Milledge added. "It is where he feels most comfortable."
Michael Lloyd, a former teammate of Lloyd's at Dunbar, was also at yesterday's game. "He can definitely step in and play right away," Lloyd said. "We have nothing to do with Bob Wade."
Said Vivian Hockaday, a longtime Poet Follower: "Like I told Keith, whatever he decided to do, I was with him. I've been with him for four years at Dunbar and I will support him at Maryland."
"I don't think it's a bad decision," said Dunbar fan Hilary Lipscomb. "I think he will fit in and there's the prestige and the national ranking every year. But to be honest, I wish he would have gone away from Baltimore just to get the experience."
Booth's oldest sister, Kendra, also wanted him to leave the state.
"We argued, I even cried," she said. "I actually cried because I did not want to him to go to Maryland. I thought he needed to get out of state and get away from everybody. I've seen the way Donta [Bright, a former teammate of Booth's at Dunbar now at Massachusetts] went out of state and got himself together and seems to be a lot of stronger, and I thought he needed the same thing.
"Maryland being close to home just wouldn't do it. Everybody would be down there, 'Turk, I need this, Turk I need that,' wanting tickets or just popping up while he's trying to get settled in. Him being away would be better."
Some other top players in the nation have decided to play close to home recently. Two of last year's high school All-Americans, Jason Kidd (California) and Corliss Williamson (Arkansas) did it. This year, Jerry Stackhouse of Kinston, N.C., has chosen North Carolina, and Randy Livingston of Newman High in New Orleans is going to Louisiana State.
Booth will now be a 35-minute car ride away from Baltimore. His decision could open an Interstate 95 pipeline between city high schools and College Park.
"I think it's great," said Dunbar center Norman Nolan, who is considered one of Maryland's top recruiting priorities for next season. "It broke the [impasse] with Maryland and Baltimore and loosened it up for the next players coming along to think about Maryland."
For Booth, the pressure he faced in making his college choice probably will increase while he is at Maryland. All of Baltimore, especially the east side, will be watching closely.
"We couldn't tell Keith where to go, whether it would be Maryland or any other school," said Short, chairman of the Poet Followers. "Keith isn't the first person to make a decision that might have not been our choice. But we love him wherever is goes, and all we have to say to Maryland is to take care of our boy."