Until Cheryl Miller arrived at Southern Cal five years ago, college basketball had never seen a woman so big who played with such abandon and dexterity. When Miller ended her career last spring as a three-time Naismith Player of the Year, people wondered if she would be remembered as a one-in-a-million phenomenon or as the standard for the next generation of players to emulate.
To answer that question, the 15-0 Lady Knights of Rutgers are proud to present 6'2" Sue Wicks from Long Island, N.Y., who can match Miller (almost) inch for inch, coast for coast and in a few other ways as well. Wicks doesn't yet dominate the game the way Miller did, but she can shoot from 15 feet, run the floor with or without the ball and perform the occasional 360-degree spinning, swirling swish. She is scoring at a 23.5 points-per-game clip, and she even tends to that dreary big gal's task of blocking shots. Wicks snuffed out 11 against West Virginia on Jan. 3 and in a game last season so emphatically redirected Suzie McConnell's jumper that the Penn State All-America didn't score a single point.
Wicks grew up in the village of Center Moriches, the daughter of a man who dredged the Great South Bay for scallops and clams. As a senior at Center Moriches High, Wicks had the highest scoring average in the nation, 39 points per game. She once scored 59, including 25 straight baskets from the floor without a miss.
Success didn't come quite so easily when she arrived at Rutgers. After contributing off the bench as sixth woman her freshman year, she broke her ankle during a pickup game on the Labor Day preceding her sophomore season. Told that she would have to sit out through New Year's, she repaired to Long Island for a few days to mull over the situation while doing a little deck time on her father's boat. After her cast was removed on Oct. 21, she rehabilitated the ankle more quickly than anyone expected. Despite not practicing until Halloween, Wicks worked her way back without missing a game and averaged 21.8 points.
Rutgers coach Theresa Grentz, who was the center on the tiny Immaculata College team that won three straight national titles in the early '70s, can see some of herself in her star. But Wicks came in at a higher stage in the evolution of the women's game and thus plays a different brand, ever mindful of the Miller prototype. Not that she consciously tries to emulate Miller. In fact, when Wicks posts up on the block and flicks in her turnaround jumper she looks more like her idol, Bernard King. Says Grentz, "It's very important to Sue that she be seen as graceful."
With Rutgers starting the same five that took the team to the final eight last spring and Wicks's similarly smooth linemate and sister Long Islander Regina (Sticks) Howard shooting over 65%, the Lady Knights are currently No. 4 in the polls and cruising. "I spend more time thinking about basketball than practicing it," says the front end of the Wicks 'n' Sticks Show. "In my mind, we beat Texas all the time and should be ranked No. 1." The notion that Cheryl Miller would have an heiress apparent once seemed an idle daydream, too.