A big crossover move Basketball: Emerging from the obscurity of a Jewish, all-boys school, Tamir Goodman has drawn attention and respect for his game.

December 26, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

It's happened to many, even before they took center court. And the abuse from the crowd, jammed three deep outside the chain-link fence, can happen for simple stuff: Maybe they didn't like your gear. The lines in your haircut. Maybe even the way you walked.

It's life at "the Dome," Baltimore's hot spot for basketball. Smack dab in "the 'hood" on Baltimore's east side. A place where only the strong -- and thick-skinned -- survive.

And that's where the legendary court figured to claim another victim last summer when this lanky, pale white kid from Pikesville, an Orthodox Jew -- complete with yarmulke pinned to his hair, mind you -- came to play. They called him chump. He was an obvious target in a sea of African-American faces. "Hey, ** it's Howdy Doody," they chanted as he entered the fence. The sometimes-comical, often-cruel taunts continued through the layup line.

So what went through this kid's mind at the time?

"I couldn't wait to show them my stuff," he recalled last week, breaking into a wide, confident grin. "Then I got on the court and I shook somebody and they were going, 'Oh, man -- did you see that?'

"By the end of the game, they were asking me, 'When you playing next?' "

Meet Tamir Goodman, a high school basketball player you probably don't know. He's a 6-foot-3, 165-pound junior at an all-boys school, Talmudical Academy, that few outside the Jewish community have heard of.

But the colleges know him, with Maryland, Kentucky and North Carolina among those keeping tabs. The local players know him, often showing up at Talmudical games because they know Goodman will put on a show with his nasty crossover dribble. And his numbers are pretty impressive, 32.5 points, 8.0 assists and 7.7 rebounds through his first eight games.

Last week, a local basketball observer, Paul Baker, got on the radio and went as far as comparing Goodman to Pete Maravich and Larry Bird -- a bit much for a kid playing just his second year of organized basketball.

Which leaves the questions: Is Tamir Goodman the real deal? Is he really JJ (the Jewish Jordan, one of the nicknames he has been called)?

Or is Tamir Goodman simply yet another great white hope?

"He's only a junior, so comparing him to Maravich and others is a long, long way," said Tony Jordan, coach at Gilman -- whom Goodman dropped 29 points on recently. "But he's making a name for himself. He's real intense. He's got a bright future.

"He's not just hype."

Showing his skills

Six minutes into his game against Mount St. Joseph, and Goodman is already facing his third defender.

That's because Goodman, working out of an isolation offense that clears one side of the floor for him, has easily burned the first two for easy scores.

A year ago, Goodman averaged 27.0 points, 7.3 assists and 7.1 rebounds, led his team to a 28-3 record -- and didn't register a blip on the basketball radar.

"All I kept hearing was: Who did he play?" said Talmudical basketball coach Harold Katz, whose team last season played mostly smaller, unheralded private and Jewish schools. "So I changed the schedule to show everyone that his skills translate."

(Talmudical next plays Tuesday, against Severn in a tournament at Howard High.)

The Talmudical kids play with a lot of heart, but, let's face it, they aren't the most talented bunch outside of Goodman and hard-nosed center Shlomo Tajerstein.

And yet here it is, the fourth quarter, and Talmudical is right there with then-19th-ranked Mount St. Joseph. And Goodman is the best player on the court, scoring on baseline jumpers, up-and-under post moves, three-point shots a good four steps behind the arc. Talmudical loses the tight game, 61-58, and Goodman posts some pretty gaudy numbers -- 41 points, including scoring 24 of his team's 27 in the fourth quarter.

"Yeah, he's flashy," said Towson Catholic junior guard Keith Jenifer who, along with some of his teammates, have come out to Mount St. Joseph to see Goodman. "The first time I saw him, I didn't think he could play because of that thing on his head. It took me five minutes. He can shoot, pass, jump -- he can play."

After the game, Goodman exchanges greetings with Jenifer and some of the other players. Later, he gushes.

"You can't imagine the feeling I get," he said, "to see these superstars in the stands coming to see me play."

Katz said he knew it would come to this, having seen the star quality in the then-8-year-old Goodman years ago.

"His brother was on the team, and at practice [Goodman] would beg me to play," Katz said. "At the time, he was 4 foot 2. And he was already better than most of my players."

An early influence was Gerard Garlic, former star at Goucher College and now an assistant women's coach at Morgan. By the age of 12, Goodman was attending a basketball camp at Towson State and running with the "NBA" division -- the highest league at the camp, consisting of 17- and 18-year-olds. Goodman held his own, and was given the camp's Most Improved Player Award by former NBA player Adrian Dantley.

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