Maryland's men's basketball program is set to hire former star Keith Booth, whom Coach Gary Williams has called the most important recruit of his 15-year tenure, as an assistant coach, two sources close to the program said yesterday. Booth's hiring could be announced as early as Friday.

The sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Booth's hiring hadn't been officially approved, said Booth would replace Matt Kovarik, who is leaving the staff after a three-year tenure to return to law school. Booth and Kovarik, a former backup point guard with the Terrapins, were in the same recruiting class, arriving in College Park in 1993 along with future national player of the year Joe Smith.

Booth, a graduate of Baltimore's Dunbar High, averaged 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds during his four-year career. The 6-foot-6 forward earned Williams's respect because he was willing to play a variety of positions in order to help the team. He was a four-year starter who often guarded players much bigger than himself, and averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds as a senior, when he was first-team all-ACC and third-team all-American.

When Booth chose Maryland over Duke, the Terrapins were still feeling the effects of probation and hadn't been to the NCAA tournament in five years. When Booth and Smith helped the Terps earn a berth in 1994, it began a string of 11 straight NCAA trips that is still alive.

Booth, 29, was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bulls in the 1997 NBA draft. His hiring will complete an overhaul of Williams's staff. In April, Jimmy Patsos, an assistant for the Terrapins for 13 years, left to become the head coach at Loyola in Baltimore. Maryland hired Mike Lonergan, who won a Division III national championship at Catholic University, as Patsos's replacement. Williams also promoted Dave Dickerson, an assistant for eight seasons, to associate head coach.

-- Barry Svrluga