Woman Basketball Star Is in Family of Achievers
When it comes to athletic chutzpah, Basketball Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller and brother Reggie have what it takes
SPRINGFIELD, MASS. — AFTER the introductions at this week's Basketball Hall of Fame press conference, Cheryl Miller took a seat in the hall's auditorium and let reporters fire away at her.
She's always loved going one-on-one. It was no different this time, as she fielded many questions about her playing career and that of her now-famous younger brother, Reggie, who is a star of the National Basketball Association's Indiana Pacers.
Several rows behind Cheryl sat Saul and Carrie Miller, the proud parents -- proud not only of one of the newest members of the Hall of Fame but also of their four other accomplished athletes (more on that later).
A four-time All-American at the University of Southern California, Cheryl Miller is now the women's basketball coach at the school. Joining her in the '95 Hall of Fame class were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John Kundla, Vern Mikkelsen, Earl Strom, Anne Donovan, and Aleksandr Gomelsky.
''I wasn't the greatest athlete, but I played with a lot of heart and love and had a little bit of a flair,'' she said in a gross understatement. As a high school player, she once told Julius (Dr. J.) Erving that she planned to take his place as a flashy pro player.
''I had an incredible work ethic because that was instilled in me at a very early age,'' she said of her family upbringing.
After Abdul-Jabbar, Miller was the main media attraction at the conference, partly because so many reporters wanted to ask her about brother Reggie, who has been torching the New York Knicks in the current NBA playoffs.
This was supposed to be Cheryl's moment in the spotlight. Still, she said she liked talking about millionaire superstar Reggie, who is her equal when it comes to athletic chutzpah. She encouraged questions on her nearest sibling and ''best friend.''
She got on Reggie last year for being too nice during a Pacer playoff series won by the Knicks. ''I don't even like watching you, man,'' she told him, explaining, ''I'm very outspoken, very direct, but I don't take myself too seriously.''
Her parents say Cheryl and Reggie have always been inseparable.
''It's like they are twins,'' says Mr. Miller, who has retired from computer systems work, first in the Air Force and then at a community hospital in Riverside, Calif., where the Millers live. Mrs. Miller is a retired nurse.
''When the game started Cheryl would get in another zone,'' says her dad, who claims he gave her the gift of gab, while the assertiveness came from his wife. That makes Mrs. Miller, who lets her husband do most of the talking, laugh. She lets him put a spin on things, content in the knowledge that their teamwork was instrumental in nurturing a family of achievers. Oldest son Saul Jr., who plays saxophone, is an accomplished Air Force musician. Darrell, the next oldest, played catcher for baseball's California Angels, for whom he now scouts. Tammy, the baby of the group, was an outstanding volleyball player at Cal State Fullerton.
''I think we [as a family] were blessed because God gave me the right man [as a husband],'' Mrs. Miller says. ''We worked together and got things done.''
Just getting the children to their games was an accomplishment, says Mr. Miller, who recalls days with four games.
The parents had a house rule, though: ''If one of the kids was participating, one of us would be there,'' Mr. Miller says. ''If there were four games, I'd go to two and their mom would go to two. If there were three games, I'd start at one, Carrie would start at another, and we'd meet at the third.''
When Cheryl and Reggie, who is 17 months younger, were both in college, their parents would most often attend Cheryl's games at Southern Cal first, then leave when victory was assured to speed across Los Angeles to UCLA, where Reggie played.
It's only been since college that Reggie has emerged from his sister's long athletic shadow. Cheryl led USC to back-to-back national championships in 1983 and 1984, was a three-time college player of the year, scored more points (3,018) than all but one other female collegian (Carol Blazejowski is No. 1), and guided the United States women's team to a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Reggie's sister was such a star, in fact, that some unsporting spectators would call out to him ''Cheryl, Cheryl,'' as though that might distract him. What they probably didn't realize is that the two have vast respect for each other, based on many fierce one-on-one encounters growing up.
''Reggie never went in for a layup without getting [crunched] into a pole or a garage door,'' says Cheryl, who recalls that their games often ended with a skateboard being thrown at her. The matchups usually incorporated some extra challenge, such as scoring only on banked shots or hooks, or only counting shots that hit ''pure net.''
Cheryl, who made her parents proud by becoming an academic All-American one year, finds she is surprisingly patient as a coach. She may need more patience, too, since in two years as USC's head women's coach (after five years as an assistant), the Trojans have gone from Pacific-10 Conference champions to fifth-place finishers.
Miller did not take over the job under the best of circumstances, accepting the post after USC's controversial parting with Marianne Stanley, who was unsuccessful in a sex-discrimination suit against the school. To some, that might have cast Cheryl as an antifeminist. She doesn't view it that way and says women's basketball is ''where it needs to be'' right now, which is making steady progress.
Long-range, she'd like to be in the NBA. ''I'd love to coach that Miller kid, he's a handful,'' she says of Reggie. If he needed a reminder of who is the boss, she could cite the night they both were in high school and Reggie came home excited about scoring 39 points. Cheryl had scored 105 points the same evening.