Duke's Tillis wants to be showstopper at women's Final 4

Forward hard to handle with three-point shooting

NCAA Tournament

April 05, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Coming next fall to a campus television station near you is The Iciss Tillis Show, a place for the silly and the serious, the thoughtful and the nonsensical, kind of like its star.

The Duke women's basketball forward will be getting her own weekly half-hour show that will air on the campus station starting next fall, and Tillis is pledging that it won't be like anything that anyone has ever seen before.

"Sometimes it will be Saturday Night Live, and sometimes it will be me out randomly interviewing people or whatever comes to mind," said Tillis yesterday. "We're going to do an American Idol one. It will be something."

First, Tillis, who was named to the 10-player Kodak All-America team yesterday, will have to help the Blue Devils conquer Tennessee in tomorrow's first national semifinal at the Georgia Dome.

To do so, Tillis, who is known as the team's resident cutup, will have to put her jocular side on hold.

"Right now, I'm so focused that I'm not in that humorous mood," Tillis said. "I have a job to do. I laugh and everything and I'm really relaxed, but all the time I'm thinking, `What am I going to do on Sunday night to win?` That's what's going through my mind right now, not, taking all of this in and I'm an All-American. Our job is to come out here and win a national championship, not just to make it to the Final Four."

Tillis, a 6-foot-4 junior forward, is the inside power to the perimeter cool of guard Alana Beard. Tillis, Duke's second-leading scorer, is averaging 14.6 points, and is also the team's leading rebounder at 7.4 boards a game.

But getting Tillis to stay on the block has been a continuing project for Duke coach Gail Goestenkors. Tillis shoots 38 percent from three-point range, hitting 46 of 120 attempts and isn't entirely sold on playing exclusively down low.

Tillis had been playing out on the wing this year, when forward Monique Currie suffered a knee injury early in the season. But after the Blue Devils lost to Connecticut in February, their lone setback of the season, Tillis was asked to go back inside.

"I play my best basketball when I'm doing both, scoring on the inside and scoring on the outside, because as much as we would like Iciss to be a post player, that's just not my game," Tillis said. "My game is that I have the ability to shoot from the outside, and that's good because when I have the ball out on the three-point line or even beyond the three-point line, a girl has to respect my ability or else I'm going to shoot in her face."

The blend of inside and outside seems to be working. In Duke's 101-52 drubbing of Maryland in January, Tillis had three blocks and 19 points, which put her over 1,000 points.

"[Tillis] is just so hard to defend," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said after the game. "I mean, the way she can shoot the three and beat you off of the dribble. ... I just think she was really able to take it at us."

Tillis had 21 points in Duke's 66-63 win over Georgia in the West Regional semifinal including three three-pointers.

Said Goestenkors: "She's done a great job. She just understands that she just needs to do whatever we need her to do, and it's going to be best for the team. And now she's found out that if she does that, it's going to be best for her."

Tillis is the daughter of former heavyweight boxer James "Quick" Tillis, but if she had her way, the only way to associate the two would be through the nickname.

James Tillis divorced Iciss' mother, Melanie, when their daughter was six, and while Iciss has memories of her father as a child, there aren't many, because James Tillis hasn't seen much of her since the divorce.

He reportedly saw Iciss play in last year's Final Four in San Antonio, but has had little or no contact with her, a rare point of contentiousness with her.

"To be honest with you, it's really, really frustrating to be the daughter of somebody famous," Tillis told the Daily Oklahoman last December. "Everything that you do is like a reflection of the famous parent. It's hard because the other one always gets overlooked. It wouldn't be a big deal if my father had been there for me."

Iciss Tillis maintains that her mother and her stepfather, Jesse Morris, are her real parents, and wants very little, if anything, to do with James Tillis.

"It's been those two that guided me and raised me," Iciss Tillis said. "If my mom wasn't as strong as she was ... I know for a fact I wouldn't be here today."

If anything, Melanie Morris says that her daughter's highly developed sense of humor comes from her biological father, though it's clear that the mother and daughter, who complete each other's sentences, giggle at each other's jokes and crack each other up, could do their own Regis and Kelly type of show if they wanted.

As Tillis was relating how, as a child growing up in Tulsa, Okla., that she would play basketball in the park for so long that she would be surprised at how dark it was once she got away from the lighted courts, Morris looked at her with mock incredulity.

"When I started playing, it was addicting, almost," Tillis said. "I would play and I didn't want to stop playing. The lighting on the court was deceptive because when you stepped off the court, you'd realize that it was darker than it really was."

Said Morris: "Oh, so, that's what it was. You weren't being disobedient, huh?"

Said Tillis: "Of course not, Mom. I would never disobey you."

Women's Final 4

At Atlanta. TV: ESPN.

Tomorrow's semifinals

Tennessee (32-4) vs. Duke (35-1), 7 p.m.

Connecticut (35-1) vs. Texas (29-5), 9:30 p.m. Tuesday's final

Semifinal winners, 8:30 p.m.

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