As they say on TV, welcome to Miller time. Cheryl Miller, 18, the University of Southern California's spectacular 6'2" freshman wing, made her college debut last Sunday in a 105-62 win over Pepperdine. As a high school senior she was the most highly recruited woman athlete ever. Now she can concentrate on becoming the best woman basketball player ever. She already possesses the deftness and charisma of a Nancy Lieberman, the virtuosity in fundamentals of an Ann Meyers, and the speed and athleticism of a Lynette Woodard—players who made All-America 11 times among them. To top off her talents, Miller has done what almost certainly no other woman player has ever accomplished in a formal game. She has dunked.
Last August, after nearly six months of deliberation, Miller chose USC over more than 250 schools. Her presence in an already powerful lineup has made the Trojans a heavy favorite to win this season's NCAA women's title. "Cheryl is the difference between USC being in the Top 10 and being the top team," says UCLA Coach Billie Moore. "Her skills at this stage are probably further along than those of any other player to come out of high school."
In four seasons at Riverside ( Calif.) Polytechnic High, Miller led the Bears to a 132-4 record, California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section 4A titles in 1980, '81 and '82 and to the first CIF statewide 4A championship last year. She holds the CIF records for most points in a career (3,405), a season (1,156) and a game (105). Her 37.5-point average as a junior is also a record. She hit her 105 points last January in a 179-15 win over Norte Vista High, surpassing her previous high of 77, set the season before against the same team.
But that scoring mark wasn't her most memorable accomplishment; two of those 105 points came on a one-handed breakaway dunk. That gave her two dunks in her career—the other was also against Norte Vista. Those two dunks have made her a watershed figure in the history of the women's game. As far as anyone knows, Miller is the only woman ever to jam in organized competition. So she's much more than a basketball star—she's an attraction, something women's college hoops has sorely needed since the colorful Lieberman departed in 1980.
"When I dunk, it's like I'm on Cloud 15," Miller says with a smile as bright as her future. "But I can't do it every time out. I don't have it down pat yet. The conditions have to be just right, the game situation, the condition of the floor. But I know I can do it if my timing is right."
Her timing is perfect for the Trojans. Last season, USC won 18 straight games over one span and had a 23-4 record, the best in the history of women's basketball at the school. But the Trojans slumped during the second half of the season, losing three of their final six Western Collegiate Athletic Association games. Then, after two wins in the first two rounds of the NCAA Mideast Regional, USC lost in triple-overtime to Tennessee in the regional final.
"We were competitive," says Coach Linda Sharp. "But when we'd go up against teams like Tennessee and Louisiana Tech, we always seemed to be one player short. But now we have Cheryl. She's the finest triple-threat player I've ever seen." As dangerous an offensive player as Miller is—she's particularly adept on the offensive boards—she's prouder of her defense. "I like to intimidate my opponent," she says. "When I shut down someone who's scoring 20 or 30 points a game, that's a compliment to my defense."
That's as close as Miller will come to complimenting herself. She's mature beyond her 18 years and has already learned how to enhance her image by saying the right things to the media. Example: Though others may see her as a significant figure in the history of women's basketball, she says, "I don't consider myself a superstar." Her teammates, however, think otherwise. "She can do it all," says Paula McGee, the Trojans' leading scorer last year and one half of a dynamite twin-sister act. "She has an eagerness to get going, to see what college basketball is all about. She wants to see if she's the Cheryl Miller she thinks she is, or perhaps the player other people think she is."
Miller, who comes from an athletically inclined family of five children, received much of her early training at home. The Millers' athletic heritage runs deep. The father, Saul, a 6'5" retired Air Force chief master sergeant, was an all-state high school forward in Memphis and played three years at Memphis' LeMoyne-Owen College before enlisting in 1951. The Millers' oldest son, Saul Jr., 26, played basketball for a season at Ramona High and is now a saxophone soloist with the 15th Air Force band at nearby March Air Force Base. Darrell, 23, an outfielder in the California chain, earned All-America honors in baseball at Cal Poly Pomona after rejecting several football scholarship offers, including one to USC. Reggie, 17, is a highly regarded forward at Riverside Poly, while Tammy, 14, hopes to begin her athletic career as a volleyball player next year, when she's a sophomore.
Saul has played an important role in his children's athletic development. "Their father was responsible for their being athletes," says Tim Mead, who works in the Angels front office and knows the family. "He's really been their coach as well as their father. Whichever sport they decided to concentrate on, he concentrated on it too. If Cheryl needed to practice her hook shot, he'd be out there watching her. If Darrell needed someone to go out there and throw him bad-hop ground balls, his father would be out there doing it."