Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Boothe makes quick leap from Highlands to Xavier

Freshman earns accolades with her inside play

By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Days from her high school graduation, Highlands star Tara Boothe was eager to begin her college basketball career at Xavier. Until a phone call disrupted her plans.

Freshman Tara Boothe averages 15 points and 7 rebounds.
(Xavier/Greg Rust photo)
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Seven-year Musketeers coach Melanie Balcomb was on the line. She'd accepted the Vanderbilt University head-coaching position, and wanted to tell Boothe before the formal announcement.

Boothe, who scored 2,000 points in high school, took the news hard.

"It was disappointing because she was a big reason I was coming here," Boothe said. "I didn't think she was going to leave. I didn't even see her before she left."

Boothe, a forward, was so intent on playing for Balcomb and the Muskies, she'd made her only official college visit to Xavier. She'd chosen the school for its academics, athletics and proximity to her Northern Kentucky home.

But four weeks into the season with a new coach, the 6-foot-1 forward has yet to miss a beat.

By the time Boothe packed her bags for summer school, her name had become a buzzword in basketball circles. She even was named to the Atlantic 10 Conference's Preseason All-Rookie Team.

• What: Xavier (7-1) at UC (7-2)
• When: 1:30 p.m., Saturday
• Where: Shoemaker Center
• Series: UC leads 18-6
Eight games later, Boothe leads the Musketeers (7-1) in nearly every statistical category, from rebounding (57) to steals per game (1.8). She's second in scoring, averaging 15 points per game.

Since Nov. 22, she's been chosen the A-10 Rookie of the Week twice, in back-to-back weeks.

Kevin McGuff, who took XU's coaching reins June13, isn't surprised. He knew how good Boothe could be after watching her play summer AAU ball.

"She's good around the basket; she can score," McGuff said. "She has good hands and good timing, and that makes her a good rebounder. Her challenge right now is to play every possession like it's important."

Mental mistakes have been Boothe's biggest foe. Boothe leads one statistical category she'd rather not - most turnovers - and is tied for most times fouled out.

While adjustments have been numerous, college basketball's fast-paced atmosphere and talented prospects have yet to intimidate Boothe.

"In high school, you have everyone slowing the ball down to run plays," Boothe said. "This is a lot more up-tempo and a lot more aggressive. The speed of the game is the main difference."

Boothe sizzled in Xavier's opener, a 62-54 win at Pepperdine. She was 8-of-14 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free-throw line for a team-high 19 points.

Boothe has scored in double figures in all of Xavier's eight games, setting a school record for consecutive games with double-digit scoring by a freshman beginning a career. The former mark - three games - was set by Taru Tuukkanen in 1997-98.

She's the first Xavier player from a Cincinnati-area high school since Mercy's Nikki Kremer (1995-99).

The what-ifs that dominated Balcomb's departure are beginning to fade for Boothe - thanks, in part, to McGuff.

"He came in and did a really good job of being enthused," Boothe said. "He was ready to get us started."

E-mail srussell@enquirer.com

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