Tara Boothe is in full rehab- ilitation mode, emerging from the weight room in the bowels of the Cintas Center on crutches, still flushed from a workout. She is two days removed from surgery on her right knee, her second surgery of the off-season, and is determined to overcome its effects. She doesn’t have much choice. This is it, her senior season, her last chance. She is being marketed as an All-America candidate and stands to become the University’s all-time leading scorer—if she can stand.
Boothe’s 1,680 career points currently place her at fifth among all-time leading scorers among Xavier’s women players—a number easily within reach of Jo Ann Osterkamp’s record of 2,036 points set back in 1984. Last year, Boothe set a new single-season scoring record with 659 points. She also reached and passed the 500-rebound mark for her career. At the moment, though, playing seems distant and even the prospect of walking seems a bit out of reach.
Pry a little, though, and Boothe swears she will be ready. Her knee will be just fine, she says, maybe even a little better than it was last year. Pry a little more and she admits that, yeah, being the school’s all-time leading scorer is a record she wants. And it takes a little prying to get her to own up to the notion. Shy and quiet among all but her teammates, Boothe is a bit of a throwback—she isn’t one to boast about herself to reporters off the court or talk trash to opponents on it. She just plays. And always has.
Boothe’s love affair with basketball began early in life. She and a friend became the only female players on an otherwise all-boys’ team in the second grade, and continued in those roles through the sixth grade. Basketball fever had set in.
“I just got hooked on it,” she says.
From there the love affair blossomed. She played Amateur Athletic Union basketball and was a four-year starter at Highlands High School in her hometown of Fort Thomas, Ky., which sits about seven miles south of campus. Living so close, she became so familiar with Xavier that she committed to attending the University during her junior year in high school. Pry, and she’ll tell you she really likes the smaller class sizes and living close enough to home that her family can see her play. Family is important, she says, and in her family, so are sports. Her father, Richard, played baseball at Ohio State and Northern Kentucky universities. Her brother, Dickie, played baseball for Eastern Kentucky University.
Tara broke the family mold by choosing basketball, and it’s quite possible she may break it again by being the first in her family to play professionally. Former Xavier star Nicole Levandusky spent a year with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks after graduating, and Boothe’s talent level is on par with Levandusky’s.
Boothe, though, shrugs off the notion. It would be nice, she says, but this season is her first priority.
“It’s the last go-around. The clock is ticking,” she says. “The NCAA tournament is just a totally different experience. I want to get back there.”
During her three seasons with Xavier, the team’s advanced to the post-season each year—once to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament and twice to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Last year the team advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT for the first time in school history, before losing to Kentucky, 67-62.
“We were close last year,” says guard Kristy Wallner, Boothe’s roommate for three years and the team’s only other senior. “Hopefully, we’ll learn from our mistakes and get back to the big dance.”
Wallner and Boothe have played together long enough to know where the other will be on the court.
“I just throw the ball in the air, because I know she’ll go get it,” Wallner says. “She saves me from turnovers sometimes. When I drive into the lane, she knows I’ll probably throw it to her, so she’s ready.”
But Boothe faces a special challenge, beyond the off-season conditioning and preparation required of every player: the knee. She played much of last season wearing a metal brace to stabilize it—managing through it all to be among four Xavier players to start all 32 games. But the questions remain. At least for some.
Ask head coach Kevin McGuff, and he just says she has the work ethic, tenacity and endurance to build on what she has accomplished. “She’s so tough to defend, because she can score inside and outside,” McGuff says. “If you look at how she finished last year, she has put herself in position to have a very special year.”
Pry a little bit and ask Boothe how she wants Musketeer fans to remember her after this year, and she smiles shyly. “I want them to think I was one of the best players to play here and to wear the Xavier uniform,” she says.
They already do.