America's `best-kept secret' rewrites Maryland script

January 11, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

The recruiting war ended before it even got started.

Now the bidding from the major Hollywood studios can begin.

Tamir Goodman, a skinny, red-headed Orthodox Jew, is going to play basketball at the University of Maryland.

"A yarmulke playing in the ACC at the turn of the millennium," his coach, Harold Katz, said last night, shaking his head in disbelief.

Goodman doesn't turn 17 until later this month. His high school, Talmudical Academy, isn't exactly a basketball factory. But he's such a find, Maryland offered him a scholarship midway through his junior year.

And yesterday, during a one-hour meeting with coach Gary Williams after Maryland's 94-48 victory over North Carolina State, Goodman accepted.

"I don't think I deserve it," he said last night, sitting in Katz's Pikesville home. "There's so much work I have to do. I don't even think I'm halfway there."

Maybe not, but Williams wasted no time moving on a 6-foot-3, 155-pound guard whom Katz called "the best-kept secret in America," an athletic wonder who should be a perfect fit at Maryland.

"You only have to see him once to know," local basketball guru Paul Baker said.

NCAA rules prohibit Williams from commenting on prospective recruits, but Gooman would be the coach's latest coup out of Baltimore, following Keith Booth, Rodney Elliott and Juan Dixon.

It takes courage for Williams to embrace a player whose religion prevents him from playing from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and tackle the myriad issues that will surround his arrival.

And it takes courage for Goodman to commit to playing big-time college basketball when his decision likely will produce a split reaction within the Orthodox Jewish community.

"As long as I feel strong with God, there's nothing I can do for anybody else," Goodman said. "I realize you can't please everyone. Pleasing God is the best thing I can do."

Maryland first became aware of Goodman last July when assistant coach Billy Hahn spoke at a basketball camp operated by Baker at the Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills.

At the time, Goodman had played only one year of high school ball.

Six months later, he orally committed to the No. 5 college team in the country.

"I could see Billy's eyes were bugging out," Baker said, recalling Hahn's first impression. "Tamir made nine straight 30-foot shots -- that's 6 feet past the NBA three-point line."

Katz, however, knew that he would need to convince Division I coaches of Goodman's ability, so he prepared a highlight video that apparently swayed Williams.

The tape shows a polished, savvy player dominating AAU and local high school competition. It features a dazzling array of no-look passes, lightning-quick drives, stop-and-pop jumpers -- even dunks.

"Jewish boys aren't supposed to do that -- they're not supposed to be making noise with the rim," Katz said, chuckling as he showed the tape to two reporters.

Hahn offered Goodman a scholarship on Dec. 30, but yesterday's face-to-face meeting with Williams was critical. Goodman wanted to hear that the coach would be sensitive to his religious beliefs.

He got the assurances he needed, and the two struck a quick rapport. Goodman said that Williams hugged him, and told him that his passing was so sharp, he must have eyes in his rear end.

Why did Goodman commit early?

Because he wanted to stay close to Katz, his family and the large Jewish communities in both Baltimore and Washington. And because he was reluctant to start over in a place where he was unknown.

"When a black kid comes in, everyone thinks he can play," Katz said. "When a yarmulke comes in, everyone thinks he should be doing your taxes."

Goodman said he accepts his role as a torchbearer for the Jewish community. He already has heard taunts of "Jew boy" and "kike" from spectators and opponents, so nothing he experiences on the road in the ACC will surprise him.

"There's never going to be another game in my life where I don't have tremendous pressure on me," Goodman said. "That's just a fact."

The scrutiny will only grow once Goodman arrives at Maryland, where he would have missed five games this season while observing the Jewish Sabbath, and possibly ACC and NCAA tournament play.

Katz said that Williams told Goodman that he would attempt to schedule around the Sabbath. The coach's feisty, underdog personality should be ideal for the battles with the ACC and NCAA that almost certainly lie ahead.

Obviously, Williams believes that Goodman is worth the effort. One of his nicknames is JJ -- the Jewish Jordan. Nike could be marketing yarmulkes by the time his college career is over.

An Orthodox Jew hooping it up in the ACC.

"This isn't a story for the cover of Sports Illustrated," Baker said. "This is a story for the cover of Time."

Pub Date: 1/11/99

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