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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."