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LIGHTS! CAMERA! CHERYL!

Nov. 20, 1985
Nov. 20, 1985

Table of Contents
Nov. 20, 1985

College Basketball 1985-86
Scouting Reports
The Smalls
The Women
Cheryl Miller
TV/Radio

LIGHTS! CAMERA! CHERYL!

As she kicks off her fourth college season, USC's Cheryl Miller is a big star in a town that has a lot of them

It is quite possible that, after all these years, Cheryl Miller has become less a phenomenon on a basketball court, where she is surrounded by women of similar size, proportions, age and sweaty grunginess, than off one. This has to do not so much with her 6'3" height—Miller suggests she is closer to 6'2" but, unlike the boys, the girls always cheat down—which is nonetheless striking in civilian life, as it does with a personality, a look and bearing, a commanding presence that Miller seems able to adjust chameleonlike, according to the situation. She is the world, she is the children. Do cute, Cheryl. Or do vamp. And it's done. Miller used to favor high-necked lace blouses for dress-up and fishing hats for play. Now she is stopped by panic-stricken airport security agents for wearing a belt adorned with handcuffs. Miller can charm a Senate hearing with learned testimony on behalf of the Civil Rights Act of 1984 just as easily as she can get down and dirty with some in-your-face street talk. Let a TV guy snatch notes away from her before an interview and she won't skip a beat. "Oh, you want an impromptu" Miller will say.

This is an article from the Nov. 20, 1985 issue Original Layout

Over just one recent 24-hour period in the magical kingdom of California, Miller was confronted by a man who offered a modeling career, by a woman who insisted she spurn all show-biz opportunities and head straight into politics, and by some friends who were driving near the USC campus theater-arts buildings named after George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and suggested to Miller that she demand that her big-screen movie debut be in something along the lines of Indiana Cheryl or E.T. Meets CM.

Even there in downtown Ellay on the hallowed sets of the University of Sporting Children ("the world's most expensive ghetto," as alumna Esther Williams described the place not long ago), than where there prances no more voluptuous nubility on the face of the earth, Miller is inimitable. Just the other day a USC song girl named Chatra (uh-huh), merely another of your basic drop-dead gorgeous monstos, rushed into Heritage Hall at USC to enlighten Miller on her crisis of the day: stretch marks. "Yeah, I've got 'em," Chatra said through her permanently pouting lips. "They're little and they're where only my husband will see them...if anybody ever marries me now with these horrible marks. Ugh. What do you do about these things? I'm really bumming out on life."

"Step into my office," Miller said.

Miller doesn't have an office at USC. Nor much pull, either. Oh, the local Pop-eyes might fork over an extra biscuit in culinary tribute, but her own university rudely nixed the release of a Miller come-hither photo spread: Cheryl in cocktail sheath and bathing suit. The official explanation was that the layout was "not representative of a USC student-athlete." Translation: too sexy. The point is that even without an office, without portfolio and, following this, her senior season as a Woman of Troy, maybe even without basketball, the vehicle that has launched her into, lo, these multifarious, phantasmagoric directons, Miller will be a star. Stay tuned. You'll love it.

With apologies to Wayne Gretzky, back on the hardwood Miller probably is the most dominating individual in a team sport of this era. Arguably she is the finest basketball player of her gender who ever lived. Miller's goal this final season is to play so spectacularly well that, as she says, "You can strike arguably" from that phrase. Fellow 1984 Olympian Kim Mulkey, now an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, says simply, "Women's basketball is Cheryl Miller." And beyond this: What athletes transcend their sport? How many transcend while still playing? Ruth, perhaps. Ali, maybe. Jackie Robinson. And now a 21-year-old black-magic woman and dyna-kid princess from down the lane in Riverside, Calif.

Before Miller was out of high school she had blithely scattered legacies in her wake as if they were pocketsful of posies. She was—and is and ever will be—excitement, intensity, flamboyance, a mode of excellence, a mood even. She is the Follow-through Hotdog Wrist. She is the on-court cartwheel. She is—for goodness sakes—a haircut. Little girls all over the basketball yards of California now come turned out in "Cheryl Miller" 'dos. Miller's own younger brother, UCLA's estimable 6'7" junior forward Reggie, the most valuable player in last year's NIT, is a budding star in his own right. But on the road he is yet a haunted creature of disdain for opposing crowds who wail "Cher-yl, Cher-yl" at the poor fellow whenever he steps to the foul line. In the words of their father, Saul Miller, "They put the 'Cheryl' on him something fierce." Whew! She's not heavy, she's my sister.

It stands to reason that upon ultimately hanging it up—and the future options include everything from a wild-card spot in the next NBA draft to expatriation in the European leagues to a fresh start in a broadcasting career—Cheryl Miller will be remembered not only as a great basketball player and a female legend but now a chant. Undoubtedly, too, she will remain a certified sporting style.

Moreover, thinking back, if it seems Miller has been all of this forever, she has been. There was the 105-point game at Poly High in Riverside. Poly's 84-game winning streak. The two NCAA championship teams at USC. The electrifying Grammy awards cameo appearance during She Works Hard For The Money—Donna Summer is still wondering what hit her. The Olympic gold medal. Magazine covers in Japan and India. The BBC on hold. Chats with Ronald Reagan, not to mention Cagney and Lacey. A Face the Nation guest shot. Kissy-kissy with Barbara Walters. Rick Dees!

Cheryl Miller? Is that Cheryl Miller still around?

All the trillions of front-running women's basketball supporters who disappeared after the Olympics shall now be forgiven for assuming Miller had vanished as well. Last year she merely slipped down the rabbit hole beneath the mire of her team's 21-9 season from which the Trojanettes exited in the semifinals of the NCAA West Regional.

Some hole. In 1984-85 Miller averaged 26.8 points and 15.8 rebounds (raising her career marks to 23 and 11.9) and accumulated 80 blocks, 86 assists and 116 steals. She had 36 points and 20 rebounds in USC's 73-71 victory over second-ranked Texas, 18 and nine in a 52-48 giveaway defeat to eventual national champion Old Dominion and an outrageous 43 and 23 in an 83-79 smoke-out loss to old rival Louisiana Tech. Miller broke the USC single-game scoring record three times and set a new rebounding standard with 24 against Iowa. In addition, says USC men's coach Stan Morrison, "Cheryl enlarged her aura by creating an identity at the defensive end. She seems to search for those opportunities to hit the deck for a tie-up, dive into the crowd for a save, leap back over a press table for the loose ball. Everything and anything to turn the game her way."

As if it were a contest, Miller won the Naismith player of the year award for the second time and the Wade Trophy and a Victor award. She was named All-America for the third year running. USC's nine losses, however, were one fewer than Miller's teams had experienced over the previous six seasons combined—picky, picky—and she took it very hard. There was even some speculation fueled by Miller herself, who sometimes moans and groans that she is old and tired and (here it comes)...b-u-r-n-e-d-o-u-t...and even ready to retire as if she were Bjorn Borg or somebody, that she would pass up her final college year to go off and save the Globetrotters or Twentieth Century Fox or the CBS Morning News or the chemically dependent among us or South Africa. But in the end everyone knew that like her friend and perhaps future costar, E.T., CM. would return for the sequel.

Just as the Los Angeles Olympics surely aroused interest in the women's game, so have Miller's yeowoman individual efforts. Her captivating interpretive style has taken the sport to another level and added visibility and drawing power both locally and on the national scene. In Miller's freshman season the Women of Troy broke 11 attendance records on the road and sold out four home dates. Since then the team has had to abandon the small campus gym and schedule its home games in the Los Angeles Sports Arena and elsewhere.

While Miller's impetuous spirit and spotlight instincts have galvanized every team lucky enough to have her, USC coach Linda Sharp merits special praise for her wise handling of the irrepressible filly. Even Olympic coach Pat Head Summitt, the stern Tennessee disciplinarian whose philosophy is hardly a stranger to the Knight, not to mention diametrically opposed to Miller's, found a way to compromise in the best interests of the home force. Nearly as much as Sharp, Summitt simply let Miller be Miller, which is not quite the same as the White House staff letting Reagan be Reagan but close enough.

While hosannas for Miller continue to be heard in the basketball halls of academe, an underground backlash has developed among some wizened bearers of the women's flame, who point to Miller's lucky "timing." They resent the media's portrayal of her as a "revolutionary" and question whether her own colorful M.O. shows proper respect for the game. They fear that amid the Miller hoopla the contributions of older pioneers of the game will be obscured.

Miller's arrival in the big time did indeed coincide with a combination of powerful forces such as the positive effects of Title IX, the greater attention shown women athletes by the media and the growth of the feminist movement.

No such forces existed back when Nera White was burning up the AAU nets for Nashville Business College in the 1960s. In that era of the six-woman teams (inclusive of twin "rovers" and the three-dribble rule), White was an All-America for a full decade. Theresa Shank of Immaculata and Lucy Harris of Delta State, each of whom led her team to three national championships in the 1970s, were the next female superstars. Carol (The Blaze) Blazejowski of Rutgers, Ann Meyers of UCLA, Nancy Lieberman of Old Dominion and Lynette Woodard of Kansas followed them, talented maids all in a layup row.

"Not taking anything away from Cheryl," says Meyers, who recently was inducted as the first basketball player in the Women's Sports International Hall of Fame, "but like anything else the game has gone through several stages and I don't think you can say she's head and shoulders the best. I was considered a revolutionary myself. So was Nancy. Blaze shot the ball better than anybody. Nera White was compared to Jerry West. I don't want to knock Miller's game because she plays hard, she's exciting and she's great for the sport. But sometimes I think Cheryl goes overboard with her theatrics. She blatantly plays to the crowd and the media, and that influences comparisons. There's no doubt in my mind that we were as good in our eras as Cheryl is now."

Meyers made her name on full-out aggression and competitive hustle at both ends of the floor. (Obviously she still isn't afraid to drive into heavy traffic.) Harris was a terror on the inside. Lieberman was the mistress of the floor—ball handling, passing, controlling the game—while Blazejowski was the consummate outside shooter and Woodard a consistent scoring machine. Each and every one was a complete player, but the truth is that all were most effective in only one aspect of the game.

Miller's edge is her totality, the fact that she excels in all the phases. No contest, she is the best offensive rebounder of all time. "Who ever dominated a game with rebounding the way she does, woman or man?" asks Georgia coach Andy Landers, whose team has held Miller to a career-low 12 points. What's more, Miller is simply much quicker, faster, stronger and bigger than any of the others. Only Harris among the name women topped out over 6 feet.

"I think what makes Cheryl the best is that she is in better shape than anybody else," says Lieberman, late of the Dallas Diamonds, who were late of the Women's American Basketball Association, which was late with the payroll, which meant later, over and out. "She's got the great body, and then she hustles 100 percent of the time. She's like Larry Bird—when everybody is tired and dragging, she picks up a quick 10 or 12 points. She also plays basketball like Martina [Navratilova] plays tennis: When she releases, with or without the ball, she's immediately moving forward and up on the board. Her rebounding is like Martina closing on the volley. What she doesn't control she keeps alive.

"Of course Cheryl has revolutionized the game. She's taught young girls to play hard all the time and to be physical. She learned to do that the same way I did—we had to play like the guys. The flamboyance is her bread and butter. She sees those cameras and she seizes the moment. Sure, it's all Hollywood, but that's O.K., too. We're going to induct her into the Prima Donna club. Me and the McGee twins [Lieberman's former teammates at Dallas and Miller's at USC] are charter members. I think Cheryl is the best thing that could have happened to the game."

Physical skills aside, Miller's charisma, effervescent style and flair for showmanship remain the intangibles that set her apart. As the quintessential brother's little sister and registered trademark tomboy growing up in Riverside, Miller had only one player's poster on her bedroom wall. The player was Pistol Pete Maravich. One of her favorite baseball players was the eccentric, cigar-chomping, skull-spinning righthander, Luis Tiant. Why, of course. "He was different," Miller explains.

Miller dared not only to be great and different. She also dared to be fun.

That haircut—the one with the curls low in back and cut short over the ears—was the design of Betty Cooper at Ebony Crest in Riverside, a special at Miller's request. "I guarantee you I originated that in California," Miller says. And that extended flipping wrist, the move where after a long-range swisher, Miller keeps wagging her wrist up there on the follow-through even as she backpedals down-court? The Hotdog Wrist is a variation of her father's instructional-shooting form perfected long ago on the concrete half-court in the Millers' backyard. (Reggie has taken some flak over at UCLA for precisely the same gesture.)

Timing? "Hey, you make your own magic," Cheryl says. Johnson? "They say our games are similar," she says.

Imagine Miller's consternation when in her senior year as a Poly Bear she-went for a bundle one night against Norte Vista High and everybody got angry. So what if she scored 105 points and even dunked once in a 179-15 victory—41 in the decisive fourth quarter, gut-check time? She was just doing what she was supposed to do. Having fun. And she did miss four shots. As Saul Miller says, "If Cheryl doesn't even show up, it's 74-15 and still a blowout. What's the difference?"

As a woman, but not necessarily a lady, of Troy, Miller has been nabbed posing and posturing and carrying on something horrid. She has pointed in enemy faces and at scoreboards, blown kisses to crowds and opponents, executed arched-back cheerleader leaps after baskets, drop-kicked the ball and climbed on the rim after NCAA titles. And oh yes, she has had to be restrained from fighting. She has also threatened a staff member of the USC Daily Trojan, warning him if he took any more "potshots" at her she would have some friends "waiting" at the dorm. In short, nothing that any self-respecting, competitive, turf-guarding, wolf-ticket selling, media-understanding guy wouldn't do.

Nonetheless, these incidents have engaged Miller in such flaming controversy that one would have thought women's basketball was some sort of ruffled Victorian cotillion. Wrong. This is Pete Rose barreling spikes high into Mark Gastineau doing his sack dance on Tree Rollins biting the bald spot of Marvin Hagler punching out whatever lights are left on Howard Cosell. We're talking serious here. Last Blood: Rambonetta.

Peruse this quote that San Diego State's Paula Perczynski gave to the Daily Trojan's Scott Rosenberg in January 1984 after she was ejected from a game along with USC's Cynthia Cooper: "It all started when I got elbowed. Then Cooper purposely kicked me in the head when I was on the floor. I got up and she said 'C'mon, c'mon.' They were swearing a lot and saying a lot of——about Tina [Hutchinson] not being anything and that Cheryl [Miller] could kick her ass."

Uh, girls. Whatever happened to lullaby and good night?

"You have to realize it's no tea party out there," says Miller, who on her first international trip in 1981 broke the nose of a Yugoslav—"I nailed her. Blood was squirting everywhere," Miller says—and then last season sent Old Dominion's Medina Dixon to the floor with an elbow in the face. And Dixon is a friend. "Just because we're women we don't work or struggle or compete or want to win any less than men," Miller says. "I always feel like a gunfighter and everyone is after me. We can be friends later. On the court I'm going to take you to the hole and stuff your mug. I'm thinking nothing but net at my end and you'll be lucky to get a shot off me at yours. I'll be in your mug all night and if you can be intimidated I'll take advantage of that, too."

Following USC's back-to-back championship years and the Olympics—who can forget Miller's treacherous slide into the scorers' table after which she came up flourishing an umpire's "safe" sign?—she has toned down the impulsiveness. Emotional maturity and a sense of responsibility have had effects. And humility as well—"It's hard to get hyper when you're down by 20," she says. But Miller's altered state may also be the consequence of criticism. San Diego State coach Earnest Riggins once called her "a typical hotdog" and said he had "lost respect" for her. Cal State Long Beach coach Joan Bonvicini ridiculed Miller's "antics" and said she should major in "theatrics."

"Isn't it interesting that the people who climb on Cheryl are the same ones who tried to recruit her?" says Saul. "If they'd gotten her, she could go on the court pulling the pin on a hand grenade and they wouldn't mind."

Riggins said recently he had had "second thoughts" about Miller. "I'm a conservative coach. I just had never seen the hotdog stuff before," he said. "But that goes over in L.A., the fans look for it. Cheryl does things to the extreme, but she's good and she knows it. I guess it's not so bad to show everybody you're that good."

"Listen, I have never been an act," Miller says. "I'm always spontaneous. I'm impatient and hyper and emotional and it all comes out on the court. I used to be sensitive to what people thought of me, but I don't care anymore. I only know the way I've gone about my basketball has been successful, very successful. I don't call myself a revolutionary either. I do think I'm a trendsetter. I relate to Elvis Presley. Way back he was misunderstood, too. But he was The King. Now look at him. He's still The King."

Treat me like a fool. Treat me mean and cruel.

Fortunately, it can be reliably reported. Miller does not carry a revolver nor a speck of avoirdupois.

Miller's fascination with a musician from Memphis may have its roots in the fact that her father was the same breed of cat. Memphis born and bred, a prep All-America basketball player at Hamilton High School, all-conference at Lemoyne College, 6'5" Saul Miller also played a mean saxophone. He jammed with the touring name bands around Memphis and sat in with B.B. King and Ike Turner (late of the family Tina) on live broadcasts over WDIA radio. Saul was a member of the original Phineas Newborn quartet, and Newborn played at the wedding of Saul and Carrie Miller in Memphis's New Hope Baptist Church, which Saul's father founded.

During a 25-year career as a computer systems superintendent in the Air Force—he now has a similar title at Riverside Community Hospital Medical Center—Saul hit all the bases and most of the jazz clubs. He toured with an Air Force troupe, Tops In Blue, and his backup work included stints with John Coltrane, Charles Lloyd and Hank Crawford. Whenever the big guys hit whatever town he was stationed in, Saul would drop the printouts and pick up his sax.

Tech Sergeant Saul Jr., 29, now carries on the tradition as a woodwind specialist traveling with the Airmen of Note out of Washington, D.C. Saul Sr. himself played clubs in Riverside up until a few years ago. Then Saul's daughter got sincere about basketball and he started taping ankles. Daddies know how that goes. Was the young Cheryl Miller talented? "It was hard to tell," Saul says ever so proudly, "because of all the talent around her."

Saul and Carrie believe Saul Jr. remains the most gifted athlete of their brood, irrespective of an edgy temperament. "You grabbed his pants or made a bad call, and Saul Jr. would bitch and complain, get frustrated and quit," says the father. "Now Cheryl, you grabbed her pants, she'd come after you, tear your pants halfway up and say 'Let's get it on.' "

After Saul Jr. turned to the flute, Darrell, now 26, kept the Miller name alive in football and baseball. A 6'2", 215-pound defensive assassin at Ramona High in Riverside, Darrell used to, in his father's words, "run guys down and—boom—put them out." The Millers were waiting for the day when they could look up at the giant TV screen in the trophy-laden den and see Darrell playing linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. Darrell carried a 3.8 grade point average and dreamed of Harvard or Stanford. But one day he announced that he was going off to play baseball for Cal Poly-Pomona. "We said that boy was out of his mind," Saul remembers. Darrell is now a catcher-outfielder for the California Angels.

Naturally, Cheryl had long ceased portraying the heavenly cherub. "I ripped the frilly stuff off all my dolls," she says. "I gave Barbie a butch cut. I brutalized Raggedy Ann." Forget about her mother trying to keep Cheryl in dresses. "When we finally bought Cheryl her first pair of jeans, you would have thought it was a mink stole," says Carrie.

Our cuddly heroine went to the mats early. Fire trucks. Big Wheels. Bats and balls when she was barely three years old. "Growing up I thought I was the only girl who sweated," she says. There hardly were any girls around. Saul Jr. and Darrell were built-in baby-sitters who had to take little sis everywhere. "They hated me," Cheryl says. "They'd trip me, make me skid on my knees and then laugh. They'd constantly remind me I was adopted [she wasn't]. They'd throw me a ball, tackle me, pile on, mangle me. If I made noise by the TV they'd make me do push-ups. They'd pay me quarters not to tell Mom and Dad they beat me up. Once I told. They wrote me a note—'you are no longer our sister.' But they were real proud of me being able to throw and kick balls and fight and stuff. I did everything I could to make them happy. I got so tough I was queen of John Adams grade school. I talked a real Godfather game and I could beat everybody up. People did what I said and paid me nickels for protection money."

After the Millers moved to their current residence, a four-bedroom house with patio and hot tub in a prosperous, manicured neighborhood, Saul built the halfcourt out back. What the parents call their "accidental family"—Cheryl, Reggie and Tammy (now a high school senior and volleyball star)—was growing and here was the ideal playground. As his older daughter became swallowed up in basketball, so did Saul.

He was never a meddler in coaching matters, limiting himself to instructionals on technique and only in the privacy of his home. "We heard he was going to be a lot of trouble," says USC's Sharp, "but Saul has never been on me. He just gets on Cheryl."

"Time to get to work," Saul would shout from the stands at Poly High. And he's still shouting at the Women of Troy. Paula McGee says a USC game never had reached a boil until she heard Saul Miller shout. Time to get to work. Cheryl and Reggie were always Saul's prizes, especially Cheryl, "my baby." She was the one waiting on the front stoop every day when he came home. She was the one he taught the most to in the backyard. Once, in a game during her freshman year in high school, after Cheryl went down in a heap and suffered a sprained ankle, she looked up at Saul and said, "I'm sorry." Elise Kim, the USC associate sports information director, under whom Miller interned last summer as part of her major in broadcast journalism, calls Cheryl "Saulette."

"I sometimes think he gave me birth," Cheryl says. "My dad is still my best friend."

For a long time Reggie, a year younger, was shorter and slimmer than Cheryl. Initially Saul had his youngest son out on the court only as a guinea pig for Cheryl's girls team. Then Reggie started draining everything from 20 feet. Then he grew up. Cheryl calls Reggie "Red" from "Reddie" when she couldn't pronounce her Gs. They have been about as close as siblings can be ever since the time Cheryl would take Reggie apart one-on-one. She remembers the precise moment that stopped.

"I woke Reggie one day and asked if he was ready for another ass kicking," Cheryl says. "When he got up, he kept getting up. And up and up. All of a sudden he was 6'6". We went outside for our usual head-to-head game. I took first outs, blew by him like always and sailed in for the layup. As I was running under the basket I heard this noise. Clang. I looked up and the ball was still up there. So was Reggie. He had pinned it. I stopped in my tracks. 'Uh, Red,' I said, 'How about a game of H-O-R-S-E?' "

Here is the price Reggie pays for Cheryl's fame. On the Jan. 26, 1982 night he scored 39 points for the Poly High varsity boys, his sister outscored him by 66. "Hey, nobody remembers that part," says Saul, sounding like a fight manager. "We set a national brother-sister record."

As a freshman at UCLA, Reggie languished on the bench for Bruin coach Larry Farmer, who preferred upperclassmen and frowned on his long-distance bombing. Last season Miller blossomed under Walt Hazzard, who obviously gave him a green light from anywhere this side of Encino. Early on during the UCLA doldrums, however, this magazine ran a story on the Bruins that included a picture caption reading, "Miller has the distinction of being the first Bruin ever who can't outplay his sister." Whoops.

"After that one we called a family meeting, because Reggie was upset and so were we," Saul says. Cheryl was here. Darrell came. He's the enforcer. Everyone supports everyone else in this family. We reminded Reggie that everything Cheryl has become, he helped her get that way. We closed ranks. We also told him to start hitting the boards. From then on he played like gangbusters. See, we believe Reggie made Cheryl and Cheryl made Reggie."

And they did, too. Cheryl corrected a shooting flaw only after Reggie pointed out she was releasing the ball too far behind her head. Cheryl in turn did everything but gouge out Reggie's eyes and kick his privates while helping him get nasty under the boards.

Heart is where the home is. A blue UCLA is painted on the backyard court along with a red USC. Mom and Dad battle freeway traffic and drive the 60-plus miles from Riverside to Los Angeles as often as four days a week for the privilege of catching their offspring's games. Sometimes they bring weeks' supplies of home-cooked meals for Cheryl, who (USC lacking a women's training table) otherwise forages on licorice, Twinkies and the like.

Reggie may forever remain the brother of but he has never shown chagrin. "I don't know anybody who could have handled this situation like Reggie has," Cheryl says. "He's always been supportive. If my game is going bad he's always there. At halftime he comes down and makes suggestions. We are each other's biggest fans."

The night USC won its second national title, NCAA officials tried to remove one maniac who had run out on the floor and was about to squeeze the air out of Cheryl. It was Reggie. The two root vociferously for each other even when their schools clash. Once, at Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus Reggie was jokingly asked by a Bruin official to move to the USC cheering section. "Blood is thicker than water," Cheryl says.

Somebody once asked her to list her most memorable moments. Miller said they were USC's first national title, the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, winning the gold medal and watching her brother overcome adversity last year. And you thought The Cosby Show was sweet.

Initially the distaff Miller's journey from her reserved hometown on the rim of the desert to the inner-city campus appeared fraught with shadows. All her short and happy life Cheryl had been fairly well insulated. She had been closely guarded by her father, who didn't permit unsupervised dating until she was a high school senior. Outside of basketball she had few friends of her own race. "Socially on a scale of 10, I was a two," Miller says. Her Little House on the Prairie wardrobe didn't help her fit in any more readily at USC. "Cheryl didn't learn how to be black until halfway through her freshman year," says a friend.

The sassy, sophisticated McGees, from Flint, Mich., by way of Ultra Sheen-At-The-Mall, showed the ropes to the naive kid. Makeup. Clothes. Parties. How to walk and talk. Men. After her first night out with the girls Miller returned to the dorm at 2 a.m. and was horrified that she had forgotten to make her nightly phone call home. This wasn't exactly Cybill Shepherd (USC '73, briefly) burning down fraternity row. "Girl, you're in college now," said the McGees, setting her straight.

In time, Miller learned that the proper reply to "How's it goin'?" was not "How is what going?" She discovered which day to hit the movies at the UV (University Village). "Wednesday," Miller says. "Ghetto night, when all the locals come wandering in to take advantage of the off-prices. It's great if you're lucky enough not to have to sit watching Friday the 13th next to a wino choking his guts out on a bag of greasy chicken."

Miller once even emerged victorious in the dress-off the USC women stage on game nights, when they sashay from the locker room, killer outfits at the ready just in case Philip Michael Thomas is lurking somewhere in his Armani jacket.

Teenage Confessions Dept.: On her first date in college an upperclassman took Miller to a movie, whereupon she was accosted by so many autograph seekers in the ticket line that her date turned around and took Miller back to her dorm. Upper-class gallantry? "Naw, he was PO'd," Miller says. "I liked signing the autographs."

Subsequently, basketball groupies of both sexes at Stanford and Georgia have pounded on the locker-room door seeking audiences with Miller, and once a kid showed up at her dorm room back at USC bearing flowers. Alas, he was a semidork. Oh well. In Miller's video-inspired experiences that's just another case of Pop Life.

Given a choice, Miller would rather hang around with the likes of Reggie Theus, over whom she is still agog after a meeting at a charity tennis tournament, or—excuuuuse me—Eric Dicker-son. Miller's former USC teammate Juliette Robinson, who is married to Rams center Tony Slaton, offered to fix her up with Dickerson on a double date, but a nervous Miller backed off.

Recently this glamorous international knockout celebrity, who has made her name by invading a guy's game and trashing just about every shibboleth known to the species, asked an older veteran of the love wars, "How do you know if a guy likes you?"

Hey, Cheryl Miller, you wild thing, you: Time to get to work.

In the meantime, here's a hint. It wouldn't hurt to ask him. That is, if the girl hasn't taken the guy to the hole and stuffed his mug beforehand.

PHOTOCRAIG MOLENHOUSETHREE PHOTOSCRAIG MOLENHOUSEMiller is a communications major at USC, and she spends much of her time communicating. One minute it's at a TV-production class, the next it's with a tome at poolside, and then there are all those minutes spent communicating on the basketball court.THREE PHOTOSCRAIG MOLENHOUSEThe occasion was a Prince concert. After primping at her apartment. Miller took in some last-minute nourishment, then...transformed from college casual to ultracool, off she went, going in style in a limousine with her roommate, Tracy Clark.PHOTOCRAIG MOLENHOUSEBeing recognized in L.A. doesn't bother Miller, who loves signing autographs.TWO PHOTOSCRAIG MOLENHOUSEAt home in Riverside, Miller takes on her father, Saul, then joins brother Reggie, mother Carrie, sister Tammy and Saul for an Olympic recap. The Millers try to catch one another's games, including Reggie's for UCLA and Darrell's for the California Angels.PHOTOANDY HAYT[See caption above.]PHOTOV. J. LOVERO[See caption above.]PHOTOCRAIG MOLENHOUSEMiller's postworkout serenity belies the intensity she brings to her sport.