Son aims to make a name for himself

Maryland: Terp-to-be Darryl Strawberry Jr. wants to focus on his budding basketball career, not his famous father's troubles.

April 16, 2003|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,SUN STAFF

D.J. Strawberry watched the Maryland Terrapins on television as often as possible last winter, envisioning himself on the receiving end of one of coach Gary Williams' patented sideline outbursts.

"I'm ready for it. I have a thick skin," said Strawberry, of Santa Ana, Calif., who is part of a five-man freshman class joining the Terps next season.

Any player making the leap from high school to college ball comes with some doubts attached, but if there is one certainty about Darryl Strawberry Jr., it's that he can handle the sharpest verbal daggers.

"I've already heard it all," he said with an easy smile before the Charm City Challenge, a high school all-star game at the Towson Center last weekend. "Besides, I know [Williams] is just trying to make you better."

Throughout his high school career, opposing fans serenaded Strawberry with the same derisive "Daaaaar-ryl" chant that his father heard during a 17-year major league baseball career that included 335 home runs and numerous off-field troubles.

Particularly venomous hecklers reminded the young Strawberry of his father's many clashes with the law, which culminated with a recent 11-month stay in a Florida prison for violating probation on cocaine possession charges.

Fans at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium - or any venue hostile to the Terps - aren't going to let Strawberry come and go without catching some flak about all that, but his ears are ready.

"People say all sorts of things. It just gets me more ready to play," said Strawberry, who scored 12 points in the Charm City Challenge and also will play in the Capital Classic tomorrow night at MCI Center in Washington.

Recruiting services regard Mike Jones, a shooting guard from Dorchester, Mass., as the top catch among the Terps' incoming recruits, but Strawberry, a 6-foot-4, 175-pound guard, is the best known. ESPN has profiled him in print and on SportsCenter. A Los Angeles Times columnist has written about him.

Not surprisingly, the next Darryl Strawberry makes for quite a story.

The younger Strawberry bears a striking resemblance to his father, with his long arms, wiry strength and bright smile. He reminds Williams of Drew Nicholas at this point in their careers.

"At his size, he can play shooting guard, point guard or small forward," Williams said. "He's a very good passer."

Strawberry said he wants to limit the comparisons with his father to their shared physical characteristics. The elder Strawberry's lengthy record of legal problems includes three cocaine-related suspensions from baseball, failure to pay taxes and failure to pay child support. He pleaded no-contest to drug and prostitution solicitation charges in 1999 and violated his probation in 2001 by leaving a treatment center and going on a drug and alcohol binge.

Sentenced to 18 months in the Gainesville Correctional Institution, he was released last week.

"My dad has talked to me about what road not to go down, about staying away from drugs and alcohol and all that stuff," Strawberry said. "He has told me just concentrate on basketball."

It was D.J.'s mother, Lisa Strawberry, who handled the day-to-day parenting before and after her nine-year marriage to the baseball star ended in 1993. They also had a daughter together, D.J's younger sister, Diamond.

"My mom had the bigger influence on me by far," Strawberry said. "Whether it was basketball, baseball or whatever, she was always there for me. My dad was there sometimes. But not really."

Being the namesake of such an infamous athlete hasn't been easy, he said.

"Basketball can't be any tougher than what I've been through," he said. "I've taken so many shots."

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2002, Lisa Strawberry said: "It's very hard for [her son and daughter]. But it's something that they're used to. They have tough skin. They can deal with life."

Strawberry excelled at baseball through his rec league years, eliciting the inevitable comparisons with his father. But basketball eventually won him over.

"I liked baseball, but it was kind of boring to me," he said. "I played outfield, and just standing out there was boring. I'm more of an up-and-down [the court] kind of person. I like the action."

He attended Pasadena High School as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Mater Dei, an Orange County parochial school known as a basketball powerhouse. Playing mostly shooting guard, he averaged 11.5 points as a junior and 13.1 points and 4.3 rebounds this season. He had 11 points and 12 rebounds in Mater Dei's 70-49 victory over Woodcreek in the state title game last month.

He chose Maryland over Oregon, DePaul and Florida State. "It was the first school I visited and I felt really comfortable," he said.

Countless sons and daughters of famous athletes have preceded him into the public arena of big-time sports. Those who succeeded became known for what they did, not who they were.

Barry Bonds was known as Bobby Bonds' son until he became a star in his own right. Pete Rose Jr. was never more than the Hit King's son.

D.J. Strawberry just wants to be known for playing basketball.

"The media always wants me to talk about my father, but hopefully, everyone can get over what my dad has done in the past and concentrate on me," he said. "Because I'm over it, what my dad has done. I've forgiven the man."

Sun researcher Sarah Gehring contributed to this article.

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