USC's 'Baby Jordan' develops identity

November 28, 1990|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- It starts with the jersey, No. 23. Then there are the state-of-the-art baggy shorts. And, of course, the wagging tongue.

Michael Jordan isn't coming to Cole Field House tonight. Harold Miner is.

Miner -- one of college basketball's top shooting guards, and certainly one of its most unknown stars -- will lead Southern Cal (1-0) against Maryland (1-0) tonight at 7:30.

"I think it'll come," Miner said of his recognition, which so far has been limited mostly to the West Coast. "I'm not worried about the publicity. People will begin to take notice."

What people have noticed about Miner so far is his affection for Jordan. He is like thousands of youngsters who grew up watching, idolizing and trying to play like Jordan.

But make no mistake: Miner is no cheap imitation.

"That kid is going to be a great player," Maryland coach Gary Williams said after Miner scored 25 points, but missed a desperation shot at the buzzer in a 64-62 Terps victory last season in Los Angeles.

As a freshman, Miner, 6 feet 5, averaged a team-high 20.6 points for the Trojans, was named Pacific-10 Rookie of the Year and first-team all-league and was called the best USC guard since Gus Williams.

He also was being called by the nickname that began at Inglewood (Calif.) High School and the surrounding playgrounds -- "Baby Jordan." A source of pride at first, it has become a bit embarrassing.

"I'm sort of getting tired of it," said Miner. "I can't be the next Michael Jordan. I just want to be the next Harold Miner. There is only one Michael Jordan. I just want to get the best out of my God-given abilities."

Miner met his idol at a summer basketball camp in 1986. "Air Jordan" took "Baby Jordan" out on the court, and the prodigy took a 4-0 lead in a game to five.

"I went up for a jump shot, he caught the ball in midair and went over me for a dunk," said Miner. "I didn't see the ball after that."

Miner is a major reason the Trojans, who went from horrible to almost respectable (12-16) by the end of last season, were picked to be in the middle of the Pac-10 this year.

He also is one of the reasons USC coach George Raveling likely will get a new contract at the end of this season.

"Most of us live in search of what God put us on Earth to do; I don't think there is any doubt what Harold is here to do -- play basketball," Raveling has said. "It's like one of those underwater explorers. They know the ship is down there. They know there's gold on it. They've just got to find it. That's how we see Harold. He's such a valuable commodity."

Miner could have gone to three of the country's most celebrated programs -- North Carolina, UCLA or Kansas -- but instead chose a team that had gone a combined a 17-43 in Raveling's first two seasons.

"A lot of people were shocked when I went there," said Miner, who scored 29 in a season-opening victory Saturday against Chicago State. "I wanted to go someplace where I could play right away, somewhere I could make a difference. I didn't want to get lost in the shuffle like a lot of guys from my neighborhood."

The neighborhood, hard by the Great Western Forum, had produced its share of top-name players. But for every Byron Scott and Elden Campbell, there were a thousand guys who Miner said, "just got lost in the shuffle. . . . They could be playing in the NBA."

For them, Miner is the latest hope, someone to live vicarious basketball dreams through. When he lifts in the air, tongue wagging, his jumper arched, they, too, are taking their shot.

"Living out here and going to school in L.A., a lot of people know me," said Miner. "It's pretty heavy. Sometimes, it's hard to deal with. But I'm just going to try to let things happen."

"Baby Jordan" is growing up.

Tonight's games

Southern Cal (1-0) at Maryland (1-0) Site: Cole Field House, College Park, 7:30 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WMAL (630 AM)

Outlook: This could be a difficult game for the Terps and a great test for their backcourt. The Trojans, coming off an easy opening victory over Chicago State, are led by sophomore G Harold Miner and senior G Robert Pack, the team's assist leader last season. They could create some defensive matchup problems, though G Walt Williams and G Matt Roe should be able to shoot over the top. F Ronnie Coleman, a 6-6 senior, is USC's best inside player. If Monday night's 93-69, season-opening victory over Towson State proved anything for the Terps, it was that they need to work on their three-point shooting (one of 11) but could have a deeper bench than previously believed. Reserve F Evers Burns (14 points, 5 rebounds) could be one of the keys for Maryland.

Loyola (1-0) at La Salle (0-0) Site: Philadelphia Civic Center, 7:30 p.m.

Outlook: The Greyhounds lost an exhibition to Marathon Oil Monday night at home, but beat George Washington, 87-78, with G Kevin Green and G Tracy Bergan combining for 63 points. Tonight's MAAC opener will be a much stiffer test. La Salle was 30-2 last season with All-American Lionel Simmons, the NCAA Player of the Year. Simmons has gone to the NBA's Kings, but the other four starters are back, including stellar point guard Doug Overton, an All-MAAC choice. The Explorers beat Loyola twice, 89-69 and 110-81, last season and have a 26-1 edge in the series. This is the second of four games in eight days for the Greyhounds.

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