Terri Mann is traveling incognito. No one playing in the pickup game in the basement gym at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green knows who she is: not the students polishing their jump shots for the intramural season, not two high schoolers there mixing it up with the older guys, not the fellow looking for a game who says he used to play in the NBA. All they know is that she's good. But since Mann, on doctor's orders, is taking it easy, hanging back on fast breaks and not mixing it up inside, the others don't know just how good she is—especially since she isn't saying. She prefers being a power forward without portfolio.
Still, at 6'2", 185 pounds, Mann, a freshman, doesn't wear anonymity well, and it won't be long before the kids in Bowling Green learn 'that she's one of the best women's basketball players in the country. Indeed, before she had so much as set foot on a college court, those who knew her talents had already favorably compared her to USC's Cheryl Miller, the dominant force in the women's game in recent years.
In her four years at Point Loma High in San Diego, Mann led the Lady Pointers to a 122-1 record and four straight state high school championships. She scored 3,188 points to finish second to Miller on the state's alltime list for girls. She holds the California girls' high school record for steals in a season with 250 and set a national record with 2,256 rebounds in her high school career.
For all her other skills, Mann's forte is rebounding, a fact that prompted a high school teammate to nickname her Baby Moses after the NBA's Moses Malone. Says her coach at Point Loma, Lee Trepanier, "In high school, 75 percent of girls can't even play at net level. Of the rest of them, 20 percent play at the net and 5 percent at the rim. Then there was Terri, who by the time she was a sophomore was playing above the rim."
Before she became Baby Moses, Terri was just the baby in a family of nine children in Detroit, where she played basketball with her five older brothers from the time she was eight years old. "They used to block my shots all the time and make me cry," she says. "I told them, 'I'm going to get big and beat you.' And they would tell me, 'You can't. You're a girl, and girls don't play basketball.' "
Before she started eighth grade, Terri moved to San Diego with her mother, Willie, and the following summer she showed up at the municipal gym in downtown Balboa Park. Phillip Thompson, father of Mann's high school teammate Beth, remembers that Terri's skills were already prodigious: "The first thing I saw her do was rebound one-handed, something no girl I'd ever seen could do."
At Point Loma, Mann was sometimes frustrated because opponents played like, well, girls. "Only in the middle of her junior year did her intensity during games increase," says Trepanier. "By the time she was a senior, she had left the rest of the girls in the nation behind. There was nothing anyone could do to stop her."
Coaches who have seen her play say that when this Moses comes down off the mount, she could be carrying tablets engraved with stats even better than Miller's. "I'd be totally surprised if Terri isn't a dominating player in college," says UCLA coach Billie Moore. "She has all the tools." Moore has only one reservation: "What you can't ever measure is the size of a player's heart. That you always question." In high school, Mann was motivated by Miller's records. But can she do it all over again, this time at a higher level? At the end of her four years, will she have matched Miller's profound impact on women's basketball? And if she's so good, then what in the world is she doing at Western Kentucky instead of a women's powerhouse like USC or Texas or Tennessee?
Dozens of colleges came after Mann, and in the end it was a toss-up between Southern Cal and Western Kentucky. "Lord have mercy, why does this girl want to go to the country?" cried her mother when Terri picked Western Kentucky. But Mom has since learned that Bowling Green isn't the basketball boondocks—WKU is a power in its own right. The Lady Toppers have made the NCAA Final Four two out of the last three years. In fact, it was while watching the Tops in the 1986 East Regional championships against Rutgers on TV that Mann took a liking to coach Paul Sanderford's fast-break style.
The only real difficulty Mann has encountered in leaving California for Bowling Green is Mexican food withdrawal—Kentucky tacos don't make the grade, she says. Before each high school game, Mann would eat about eight tacos. "I have to play on a full stomach," she explains. "If I don't, I get cramps." A more worrisome pain for Mann is caused by a chronic lower back strain, which has kept her out of some of the Lady Toppers' preseason training. However, she figures to be able to go full-time once the games get under way.
Even then, Sanderford knows that Mann, as good as she seems, won't be a sure thing: "Terri is a tremendous athlete, but the high school game and the college game are different. We're going to be asking her to play for 40 minutes without a letup in intensity." Is Sanderford really worried? "Terri has all the skill that Miller had," he says, "and I know she can rise to the challenge."
If she does, that's it for anonymity.