Minutes before being formally introduced as the boys basketball coach at Dunbar, Keith Booth was huddled with some of his new players at the school’s library early Thursday afternoon.
Poet Pride was being discussed.
Afterward, the 1993 alumnus, who went on to have a standout career at Maryland and then two NBA seasons with the Chicago Bulls, continued the topic in front of fellow alums, past Dunbar coaches, faculty, family and the same young players who didn’t miss a word.
After serving as an assistant coach at Maryland and Loyola Maryland, Booth, 44, is excited and eager to return to where it all started for him as a McDonald’s All-American.
“For me, personally, it’s full circle, but at the same time, it’s about the kids today,” he said. “My experiences overall, to look in their eyes, I see myself. That’s it. As a young teenager I thought I knew a lot … but I had no idea. So it’s only right. It’s the right thing to do in terms of me coming back and imparting my knowledge and things I’ve learned as far as life; not just the game of basketball but life.”
Booth was often emotional during his 20-minute talk after becoming the Poets’ new coach, replacing his former teammate, Cyrus Jones Sr., who stepped down in March after 12 seasons and five state titles to bring the program’s state-record total to 16.
With his mother, also a Dunbar alum, on hand Thursday, Booth talked about coming from a single-parent household that didn’t have a lot, but had the most important thing of all, love.
Booth found his way in the storied Dunbar gym long before he played there, sneaking in as a grade-schooler to watch some of the greats who played before him. The lessons he learned at Dunbar are still with him. He mentioned determination, dependability and dedication as the foundation to success.
Booth is aware of the privilege and responsibility that awaits, and he said he is excited for the challenge.
“I stand here proudly from the bottom of my heart on shoulders of giants,” he said, mentioning past Dunbar coaches William “Sugar” Cain, Bob Wade, his coach — Pete Pompey — and Jones.
“I know we have a long journey ahead of us, and at the same time it starts with one brick at a time. So it’s important for me as a leader, as the head coach to let these guys know how valuable each and every one of them are,” he said.
Dunbar athletic director Dana Johnson said the school had nine candidates, conducted about five interviews and convened a panel to provide a recommendation to principal Tammy Mays.
The overwhelming consensus was to hire Booth, with further reinforcement coming when he talked with Mays.
“When we had the conversation, I was actually moved because all the things he was saying are the things that as a staff we have been doing and preparing for the kids,” Mays said. “We want them to have choices when they leave high school. We want them to be successful and to have someone like Coach Booth on board that has that integrity, that has shown that being a scholar-athlete will take you places. This is what we need for our students. We want them to see what greatness looks like.”
Jamal Cannady Jr., who will be a returning senior starter at guard next year, was one of the players in the back of the library hanging on Booth’s words.
“I feel like it’s a good opportunity for us,” he said. “He has a great background and I feel like he can make us better as young men and as players overall. It looks like we’re going to get Dunbar back to where it used to be.”
The Dunbar library was filled with energy and high hopes Thursday, a feeling echoed by Wade.
“First of all, I’m extremely proud that he’s home. He’s home now,” Wade said. “He’s an alum. You could tell by his speech that Dunbar is in his blood and he really cares about the program, the kids, the community. So, I’m just grateful he’s come back home.”