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College Basketball

Spotlight: Geno Carlisle

The 6'3" guard guiding California's resurgence prefers to do things the hard way

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Posted: Tuesday January 05, 1999 05:38 PM

By Phil Taylor

  Gerry Gropp
Sports Illustrated Everyone was hugging Cal point guard Geno Carlisle outside the New Arena locker room in Oakland, slapping him on the back and pumping his hand. Carlisle had just scored 29 points in the Bears' 78-71 upset of ninth-ranked North Carolina on Dec. 29, and the congratulations were coming too fast for him to notice who was offering them. But when one well-wisher extended his hand and said, "Good game, young fella," Carlisle happened to look up and focus on the man's face. It belonged to former North Carolina and Los Angeles Lakers star James Worthy.

"I'm a big fan of yours," Carlisle told Worthy.

"After that game," replied Worthy, "I'm a big fan of yours."

Carlisle, a 6'3" senior, has made a lot of fans lately with his flashy moves, late-game heroics and dead-on pull-up jumper. A transfer from Northwestern, where he spent two seasons and was All-Big Ten as a sophomore, Carlisle has become the catalyst for 25th-ranked Cal, which, at 9-2 through Sunday, is off to a surprisingly fast start. "He definitely has a chance to play at the next level," says Gary Fitzsimmons, the Golden State Warriors' assistant general manager for basketball operations. "He's capable of beating people off the dribble and creating his own shot, and his ability to play both guard positions makes him more attractive."

Carlisle, who was averaging a team-high 19.2 points at week's end, won't let such flattering words go to his head. "I don't like to get too comfortable," he says. "I don't want anything to be easy. I guess I just like to make life hard sometimes."

That's one reason that, as a senior at Ottawa Hills High in Grand Rapids, he chose struggling Northwestern over Temple -- though he transferred to Cal when the losing (the Wildcats were 12-42 in his two seasons) became too depressing for him. Carlisle so craves obstacles that he has gone out of his way to create them. After scoring only five points in the first game of the 1995-96 season at Northwestern, he purposefully played so poorly in practice that he got himself thrown out, which according to team rules meant he would lose his starting job for the next game. He then came off the bench to score 25 points. "It's kind of a weird way of thinking," Carlisle says, "but sometimes I do that kind of thing in order to get myself motivated."

When Carlisle decided to transfer, he chose Cal because he liked Bears coach Ben Braun, who had recruited him when Braun was at Eastern Michigan. At Berkeley, Carlisle so far has controlled his proclivity for saying what he thinks, though he rarely hesitated to speak out while at Northwestern. As a freshman he was suspended for spouting off in practice and violating what Ricky Byrdsong, the Wildcats' coach at the time, called the team opinion rule. "He was a freshman who thought he had an opinion," Byrdsong says.

Carlisle insists that he never uttered the most outrageous statement attributed to him by Byrdsong. When Carlisle was at Northwestern, several newspapers quoted him as saying, "The only player in Chicago who is better than me is Michael Jordan." But Byrdsong says he had merely told reporters that that was the kind of thing Carlisle might say.

Maybe Carlisle should take credit for the quote, since trying to live up to it would be just the sort of motivation he likes. Life couldn't be better for him at Cal right now, but where's the fun in that?

Issue date: January 11, 1999

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