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.