HONOLULU -- Just about everyone who has watched Maryland senior forward Keith Booth perform this season considers him a legitimate All-America candidate and the unquestioned leader of the unbeaten Terps.
But mention his pro prospects, and you will create a heated debate among NBA scouts, at least seven of whom were in attendance at the University of Hawaii on Friday night when Maryland stretched its record to 10-0 with a 66-63 victory over Pitt in the opening round of the Rainbow Classic.
Unlike former teammate Joe Smith, who was destined to be a high lottery pick when he left college after his sophomore year, Booth has no guarantee of playing professionally next year. And, for now, he says, he is not overly concerned.
"You can't worry about it," Booth said before the Terps practiced for tonight's (1 a.m.) semifinal matchup against tournament host Hawaii (7-1).
"I just go hard every night. I play and perform the best I can. I've played just about every role on this team since my freshman year, and I've got confidence in my game. But I have to leave the judging to someone else."
Booth scored 25 points against Pitt, raising his season average to 21.1. He uses his muscular, 6-foot-6, 226-pound body to score on post-up and baseline moves, but NBA scouts wonder whether he could do the same in the pros against bigger defenders.
"Personally, I like his game," said Pete Newell, who scouts for the Cleveland Cavaliers. "He's what we call a 'tweener' -- not really big enough to play small forward and not fitting the mode of a shooting guard.
"But Booth shows some versatility. He reminds me somewhat of Dan Majerle [of the Miami Heat] but more like Vincent Askew of the Indiana Pacers. He's very athletic and has a good understanding of the game."
Hall of Famer Jerry West, general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, said Booth would have to show he can consistently make 10- to 15-foot jump shots.
"But there are other things he does on the court that will give him a chance," West added. "He's very competitive and has a good sense of himself.
"Today, not too many of the top prospects stay four years in school. Booth has that added maturity and finds different ways to score and contribute. He's definitely improved his game every year. And, from everything I hear, he's a solid individual. Character is very important in the NBA."
The Terps' captain also got a boost from ESPN commentator Larry Connolly, who said, "When Booth takes his 6-6 frame to the basket, he is virtually unstoppable. He's done everything Maryland has asked of him. He's one of the best blue-collar workers in the game."
For the moment, Booth is more focused on keeping Maryland's winning streak alive.
The Terps, who barely survived against a 5-5 Pitt team and the phenomenal outside shooting of Jason Maile (seven three-pointers, 29 points), will face a superior team in Hawaii, and also will have to contend with the Rainbows' extremely noisy supporters.
Hawaii overwhelmed Northwestern, 79-62, opening night, making a strong impression on Maryland coach Gary Williams.
"A lot of people on the mainland don't know a lot about this team, but Hawaii is very solid," said Williams. "They're a good passing team and their guards [Anthony Carter and Alika Smith] do a good job in transition.
"They came out real tough Friday night and took Northwestern right out of its offense. And with their fans behind them, all the emotion will be on their side."
Pub Date: 12/29/96