Most women basketball players don't like to have their game style compared to that of men, no matter how flattering the intention. But if the National Basketball Association ever decides to include 6 ft. 2 in. Southern California freshman Cheryl Miller in its future plans, here is one lady who might have the credentials to play pioneer.
The best way to defense Miller is to call out the National Guard. With rare exceptions, any college team that attempts to cover her one-on-one is going to be asking for trouble.
Cheryl can play anywhere up front and could probably adjust to the backcourt. What's more, her father claims that she is still growing taller!
When unbeaten USC defeated Northwestern 110-80 in a recent game, Miller set a school record with 39 points on 16-for-22 shooting from the floor. She also had six assists and eight steals.
Then this past weekend in her biggest collegiate test so far Cheryl played an outstanding all-around game to help lead the Trojans to a 64-58 victory over defending national champion Louisiana Tech at Ruston, La.
The Lady Techsters showed their respect for Miller despite her freshman status by putting Lori Scott, perhaps the toughest defensive player in the nation, on her. Cheryl still managed 17 points, however, and also contributed 10 rebounds, four steals, two assists, two blocked shots, and an excellent defensive performance of her own while playing the entire 40 minutes.
This is the same young woman who, last February, scored 105 points for Riverside (California) High School. Her feat came against an opponent that hadn't won a game in three years, yet it still made both major wire services - partly because a girls' high school game lasts only 32 minutes and partly because two of her points came on a slam dunk.
More than 250 colleges tried to recruit Miller. Before deciding she liked Southern Cal's program best, Cheryl made a 23-game overseas tour with the United States women's national team. She was the only high school player on the trip, which included exhibition games in the Netherlands, Hungary, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, and Romania.
The first player off the bench, Miller probably had her best game against the USSR, when she replaced injured starting forward LaTaunya Pollard. She scored 16 points in a 54-53 victory, which also happened to be her average during the tour. Basically the Soviets' zone defense was tailor made for her type of game.
''I was scared, I was tight, and I didn't want to make any mistakes against the Russians,'' the 18-year-old Miller told reporters. ''But when the shots were there, I knew enough to take them. Looking back, I think that game more than any other helped me mature as a player. I know I had a lot less fear about making it at the college level after that experience.''
There is a sense of theater about Cheryl that surfaced in spectacular fashion during warmups prior to a game against the Bulgarian national team.
''We were all feeling pretty relaxed that night, because everybody was messing around doing fancy layups before the game,'' Miller said. ''So one time I went down the middle with the ball and slam-dunked. I had done it before in high school, but I can't do it everytime, although I'm working on it.''
Anyway, the Bulgarians stopped sitting on their hands and acted as though they had just seen the first woman from outer space.
Miller's presence this season on a Trojan team that already has the McGee Twins, Paula and Pam (who averaged almost 40 points and 22 rebounds a game as a unit last season) has made USC the favorite to win this year's NCAA women's title. Although the 1981-82 Trojans went 23-4 during the regular season, including 18 consecutive wins at one point, they often seemed to be one good player short aginst the nation's other top teams.
While Trojans head coach Linda Sharp is pleased with her club's current No. 1 national ranking, she isn't so sure that she likes the pressure that comes with it. Sharp seems to be thinking of this season as more of a tuneup for even better things, rather than the end of the rainbow. And despite the team's excellent start, Linda feels as though the McGees and Cheryl and the rest of the squad should get even better once they have some more time to become comfortable with each other.
Asked by the press if she thought there would be any personality clashes between Miller and the McGees, Sharp replied, ''Because the McGees are very together people and Miller a very unselfish player, I don't think you're going to see any problems.''
Miller comes from a family so deep into sports that it would be unusual if she weren't athletically oriented. Her father played three years of varsity basketball at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis; one older brother, Saul, was a forward at Ramona High before joining the US Air Force, and another, Darrell, is an outfielder in the farm system of the California Angels.
Her two younger siblings are also in sports. Reggie is a forward at Riverside Poly, while the last to go competive was 14-year-old Tammy, who prefers volleyball.
Although nobody can be sure just how good Miller can be, she is already getting the adjectives that were once reserved for Nancy Lieberman, Ann Meyers, and Lynette Woodard. Among the three of them, they made All-America 11 times.
Miller, whose game seems to have more flair than any of them, is already being called a triple-threat, meaning she can shoot from almost anywhere, rebound in traffic, and play the tough defense.