The Next Straw D.J. Strawberry is making a name for himself at Maryland, and dad Darryl has come to watch

December 15, 2003

You probably remember some of his 335 home runs. The Darryl
Strawberry dinger was a moonshot, a flyball that was often still
rising as it passed over motionless outfielders and that
descended so softly, it could be caught by a kid with a butterfly
net. The long, lean source of these blows was the same way, at
once powerful and gentle. He had a cartoon surname and a playful
smile, and you imagined he was kind even to the hookers and coke
dealers with whom he squandered many nights and much talent.
Grandmothers and sentencing judges seemed to like him.

And there he was on a recent weeknight, eight months out of prison
after his sixth probation violation and back in circulation. A new
man, he said. We've heard this before, but something about Darryl
Strawberry, a cancer survivor among other things, tends to
engender hope. He was at the game between Maryland and Wisconsin,
seven rows behind the home bench at the Comcast Center in College
Park, Md. He was with his second wife, Charisse, and their three
young children, one or two of them often on his knees. On the
court was his firstborn.

This was Dec. 2, a 9:30 p.m. game on national TV, part of the
ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The young Terps were unranked. Wisconsin
was No. 15. Maryland led for most of the first half. The retired
slugger took the whole thing in: the cheerleaders, the band, the
$3.75 Dove bars, the arena packed with screaming college kids. At
times they called out for his namesake--Darryl Jr. on his birth
certificate, D.J. everywhere else. D.J. is a long, lean freshman,
the second player off the Maryland bench, a menace on defense,
all limbs and energy and solid fundamentals. He's all over the
court; even his teammates don't know exactly what position he
plays.

In the second half things got tight. Maryland coach Gary
Williams, desperately seeking defense, put D.J. in and (pretty
much) kept him in. D.J. stopped a layup. His bony hands and quick
feet disrupted the Badgers' passing game. When the rest of the
house stood, Darryl Strawberry sat on his armrest. He's 6'6", an
inch taller than his 18-year-old son, and he didn't want to call
attention to himself. A quarter-century ago at Crenshaw High in
Los Angeles, he was a basketball star, with a superb lefthanded
jump shot, and even signed a letter of intent to play at Oklahoma
State. When he spotted a traveling violation at the Comcast
Center, he rotated his wrists, one around the other, well before
the whistle sounded.

With a second and change left in regulation and the score tied at
61, D.J. intercepted an inbounds pass at half-court and let loose
a moonshot of his own. It caught the back of the rim, bounced to
the front and fell out. The rest of the house groaned, but not
D.J.'s father. He rubbed his shaved head with his left hand and
didn't say a thing. Later, after Maryland had won in overtime
73-67--D.J. scored an insurance basket on a breakaway layup
following another steal--the home fans stood for the playing of
the alma mater. For a moment Darryl Strawberry didn't know what
to do. Then he stood along with everybody else.

D.J.'s point total didn't reveal much about his game. It seldom
does. He had three points against Wisconsin, 1.8 below his
average at week's end, but he also had two blocked shots and a
game-high four steals. Maybe the most telling thing was his
playing time: a hearty 26 minutes.

By the time D.J. emerged from his shower and his interviews, it
was nearly 1 a.m. His father was waiting in the stands. They
shook hands, soul-style, and had a quick hug. "Nice game, son,"
the father said.

Senior is back in Junior's life. There have been times when he
was and times when he wasn't, and now he is.

Thousands of miles from College Park, out on the West Coast, two
people were watching the Wisconsin game with particular interest.
One, in Pasadena, was Lisa Andrews-Watkins, D.J.'s mother and
Darryl Strawberry's first wife. They divorced when D.J. was
eight. She played high school basketball, too--forward at
Pasadena's John Muir High--which Darryl, way into his own thing,
knew nothing about. It was she who bathed D.J. when he was a
baby, she who got D.J. to school when his father was arrested
again and D.J. didn't want to face his classmates, she who filled
out the tedious paperwork for the Maryland admissions department.
She knew her ex-husband was at the Wisconsin game. She saw him on
TV. Whether she's comfortable with Darryl and D.J. spending time
together she will not say. "He's 18," Lisa says. "What am I to
do? He's a man. He makes his own decisions."

The other interested viewer, in Spokane, was Mark Few, the
basketball coach at 17th-ranked Gonzaga. He was preparing for his
team's game against Maryland four days later in the opening round
of the BB&T Classic in Washington, D.C. Few's eye kept going to
D.J. Strawberry, even though the ball was almost never in his
hands. Later, at a team meeting, Few told his players to watch
out for number 5, who played defense with unusual confidence for
a freshman. "Watch him shoot the [passing] lanes," the coach
said. The message: Sometimes it's not the guy who scores 22 who's
going to beat you.

Strawberry may never score 22 in a college game. He's not a
natural shooter. He's not a natural basketball player. When he
was growing up in Southern California, baseball was his game. But
in baseball he was always Darryl's kid. During the 1996 World
Series, when the New York Yankees were playing the Atlanta
Braves, 11-year-old D.J. was staying with his father and Charisse
at their luxurious house in New Jersey. The father and son would
drive to Yankee Stadium together in a big new Mercedes-Benz.
Everywhere they went, D.J. would hear people call out his
father's name and wish him good luck. "It was glamorous," he
says. He's intense and scowling on the court, and quiet and
serious off it. He worked a few regular-season games as a Yankees
batboy. He remembers Derek Jeter being nice to him. He had a
little pinstripe uniform and big pinstripe dreams. Later, as his
father's home run production stagnated and his rap sheet grew
longer, D.J. buried his baseball ambitions and started planning a
future in the NBA.

In basketball he could be D.J., not Darryl's kid. At Mater Dei,
the Orange County Catholic school he attended as a junior and
senior, D.J. played only hoops. In a tournament game as a senior
his assignment was to guard LeBron James. The newest NBA
sensation had seven turnovers and went 0 for 9 from three-point
range. "He knew my name by the end of the game," D.J. says.

But D.J. was not a LeBron, not a world-beater. The Maryland press
guide notes that Strawberry was listed as a top 100 prospect by
several recruiting services. In other words, he wasn't on the
radar screen of many big-time schools. Which means he was just
the kind of player Williams loves to sign--someone likely to play
at Maryland for four years. Williams says his unheralded freshman
with the famous last name is getting so much game time because of
what he does at practice: plays well and hard.

Darryl Strawberry wonders how different his life would have been
had he gone to college. Probably not very different, he
concludes, because the addiction gene is so strong in his family.
Anyway, baseball was still the national pastime when he was
coming out of high school, and the New York Mets offered him real
money (a $200,000 signing bonus). He made $30 million in 17
seasons with four sparkly teams (the Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers,
San Francisco Giants and Yankees) and millions more at card
shows. He says he wasted millions--on women, drugs, booze, cars,
legal fees, IRS fines--but that millions remain. He says there
are generous trust funds for all five of his children: for D.J.
and his younger sister Diamond, 15, and for the boy (Jordan, 9)
and two girls (Jade, 8, and Jewel, 3) Darryl has had with
Charisse.

On the day after the Wisconsin game, D.J. led his father and
Charisse and the three youngest Strawberry kids on a campus tour.
The father inspected the suite where D.J. lives with two
teammates. The old slugger, 41 now, said that even as a minor
leaguer he never lived in such a small space--although much later
he did.

That night D.J. watched over his three little siblings in their
hotel room while Darryl and Charisse went out for dinner. It was
their 10th wedding anniversary. They talked about Darryl's return
to baseball, in February, when he will become a roving instructor
in the Yankees organization, using his expertise about hitches in
baseball swings and in life. The couple talked about D.J. and
their children and their church, Without Walls International, in
Tampa.

Strawberry--still nocturnal, still a smoker--could talk all night
about the church and its pastors and the power of restoration. He
embraced the church following his release last April after
serving 11 months in a Florida prison. He was sent to prison for
violating the rules of a drug-rehab house where he served
probation time for his 1999 arrest for cocaine possession and
soliciting a prostitute. He described his two days at Maryland as
two of the best days in his life.

D.J., for his part, has lived all his life on the emotional
roller coaster that comes with being Darryl Strawberry's child.
He loves his father. He says the two days with him were fine.
Sometimes the child must father the father. "He's got to keep
busy," D.J. says. "It was good to have him here. Coming here,
that's good. Getting involved in his church, that's good. It gets
him on the right track."

And sometimes the father must father the son. "I tell D.J.
everything," Strawberry says. "I tell him about drugs, women,
drinking, how many opportunities I wasted. I tell him about the
eight All-Star games and the three World Series, too. I see old
teammates who are drinking, going to strip clubs. I used to think
I was having a good time, doing all that. But they're grown men.
D.J.'s my son. I got a responsibility to him, to all my kids." If
the addiction gene has fallen to D.J.--there's not the slightest
suggestion it has--the father thinks it's critical to deal with
it early. He believes he has something to teach his children.

The stories--the life--have had an impact on D.J. He knows the
gene could have fallen to him. He's a college freshman. His
antennae are up, but he's going to lead his life.

Last Saturday, Gonzaga was ready for Maryland--and for D.J. The
Terps and the Bulldogs played at the MCI Center. D.J.'s father
was back home in Tampa. The veteran Bulldogs were better than the
youthful Terps in every way and won the game handily, 82-68. D.J.
had two steals, but most times when he tried to shoot the lanes
he found them blocked by beefy Gonzaga players. After the game,
he sat morosely in front of his locker eating a ham-and-cheese
sandwich, staring at his sneakers.

The father knows something about sports, too. "ACC basketball,"
Darryl said after the Wisconsin game, with a tone of awe. "Duke
on the road. North Carolina on the road. He's gonna get it:
DAR-ryl. DAR-ryl. Just like I did. He'll hear it at the foul
line, just like I heard it with two strikes." Sometimes in those
situations Darryl Strawberry homered. More often he struck out.
He figures his son will do better.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN SONNY DAY Darryl (above) reveled in his firstborn's badgering of the Badgers. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MITCHELL LAYTON COLOR PHOTO: HARRY BENSON REUNITED For years, Darryl (with three-year-old D.J. in '88) was out of his son's life, but judging by a recent get-together at a Terps game (top), he's back in it again. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN (TOP) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING D.J. battled Gonzaga's Derek Raivio; the next day, Darryl and Charisse (with Jade) worshiped back in Tampa. COLOR PHOTO: GARY BOGDON (TOP) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON BILL WALTON AND CHRIS WALTON COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL CONROY/AP [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER JOHN LUCAS AND JOHN LUCAS III COLOR PHOTO: JEREMY COOK [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN DANNY AINGE AND AUSTIN AINGE COLOR PHOTO: JAREN WILKEY/BYU [See caption above]

SI.com
Hoop Thoughts by Seth Davis, and Grant Wahl's Mailbag, each week
all season long at si.com/basketball/ncaa.

D.J. has lived all his life on the EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER that
comes with being Darryl Strawberry's child. He loves his father.

"I tell D.J. everything," Strawberry says. "I tell him about
DRUGS, WOMEN, DRINKING, about how many opportunities I wasted."

GENE TEAM

Like D.J. Strawberry, a lot of young men and women have taken
their fathers' athletic DNA to the college basketball courts this
season.

PLAYER, SCHOOL FATHER

Austin Ainge, BYU Ex-NBA guard/current Celtics G.M. Danny
SKINNY: Straight shooter like former Cougars hero dad, 6'2"
redshirt freshman guard is on the mend after suffering a broken
finger last month

Ronnie Brewer, Arkansas Ex-NBA forward Ronnie
[SKINNY]: Precocious 6'7" freshman guard is son of a leader of
school's 1978 Final Four team; averaging 12.6 points and a team-
high 5.4 assists

Rometra Craig, USC Ex-NFL All-Pro running back Roger
[SKINNY]: Spark plug 5'10" senior point guard for Trojans
inherited Dad's knack for shredding defenses; was ninth in Pac-10
in scoring and sixth in steals in 2002-03

T.J. Cummings, UCLA Ex-NBA All-Star forward Terry
[SKINNY]: 6'9" senior forward has some of father's vaunted board
skills (4.9 rebounds per game in 2002-03); academically
ineligible for early-season games

Chris Ellis, Wake Forest Ex-NBA forward-guard Dale
[SKINNY]: Unlike Dad, one of NBA's most prolific downtown
scorers, 6'8" sophomore forward plays close to hoop; currently
sidelined with broken right foot

Patrick Ewing Jr., Indiana Ex-NBA All-Star center Patrick
[SKINNY]: Quickly developing 6'8" freshman forward elevated to
starter when senior George Leach went down with left-knee injury

Dan Grunfeld, Stanford Ex-NBA forward/current Wizards G.M. Ernie
[SKINNY]: Scrappy 6'6" sophomore forward can pop like Pop;
averaging 3.0 points off the bench for No. 13-ranked Cardinal
Josiah Johnson, UCLA Ex-NBA All-Star forward Marques 6'8"
redshirt junior followed brother Kris to Dad's alma mater;
averaging a healthy 4.3 boards in 20.3 minutes

Coby Karl, Boise State Ex-ABA guard/NBA coach George
[SKINNY]: Up-tempo style seems to be ingrained in 6'5" reserve
freshman guard, Broncos' No. 2 scorer (13.6 average) and third-
leading rebounder (4.6)

David Lucas, Oregon State Ex-NBA All-Star forward Maurice
[SKINNY]: At 6'7" and 230 pounds, blossoming junior forward has
begun flashing power pedigree to lead Beavers in scoring
(16.4 average)

John Lucas III, Oklahoma State
Ex-NBA guard and coach John
[SKINNY]: Given immediate eligibility upon transfer from Baylor,
5'11" junior has settled in at point (Pop's old spot) for
Cowboys; averaging 11.0 points and 4.4 assists

Sean May, North Carolina Ex-NBA forward Scott
[SKINNY]: With 23-point, 14-board gem vs. Illinois on Dec. 2,
6'9" sophomore center showed he may match exploits of Dad, '76
national player of the year at Indiana

Bobby Nash, Hawaii Ex-NBA forward Bob
[SKINNY]: 6'6" freshman swingman used sparingly so far by
Rainbows, for whom his father starred in the '70s and is now an associate head coach

Iciss Tillis, Duke Ex-heavyweight boxer James (Quick)
[SKINNY]: All-America packs punch: 6'5" senior forward averaging
16.7 points and team-high 7.8 boards for No. 3 Blue Devils

Chris Walton, San Diego State
NBA Hall of Fame center Bill
[SKINNY]: 6'10" redshirt junior is fourth (and final) Walton son
to play college ball; averaging 5.9 boards as Aztecs starter

Omar Wilkes, Kansas Ex-NBA All-Star forward Jamaal
[SKINNY]: Highly recruited guard from L.A.'s Loyola High, spindly
6'4" (two inches shorter than Dad) freshman must wait for playing
time with deep Jayhawks

Damien Wilkins, Georgia Ex-NBA guard-forward Gerald
[SKINNY]: With hops reminiscent of his dad (and uncle Dominique),
6'7" senior swingman is Bulldogs' second-leading scorer (15.2)
and rebounder (7.2)

STATISTICS THROUGH SUNDAY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)