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Former Bruin Has Taken Her Magic Act to Cal Poly

January 29, 1987|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

It was during the telecast of the NCAA Division II women's basketball title game last March and commentator Dick Vitale of the ESPN cable network, never one to mincewords, was raving about the play of Cal Poly Pomona point guard Michelle McCoy.

"Johnny Dawkins, eat your heart out," Vitale exclaimed after McCoy made a no-look, behind-the-back pass that led to a basket.

"Look, Magic ((Johnson), I can run the break, too," he gushed after McCoy completed a picture-perfect fast break with an acrobatic scoop shot for a basket.

No doubt about it, the 5-6 senior can do wonders with a basketball.

"Michelle may well be one of the best point guards in the nation, in any division," said Pomona Coach Darlene May. "Her ability to run the break is worth the price of admission."

Makes you wonder how McCoy wound up playing for a Division II team--albeit a good Division II team.

Well, McCoy did not start her collegiate career as a Division II player.

After gaining All-CIF Southern Section honors three straight years at Gahr High in Cerritos and earning all-state honors and making the Parade and Converse All-American teams as a senior, the heavily recruited McCoy realized a childhood dream by signing with UCLA.

McCoy found instant success with the Bruins, starting most of the season, averaging 11 points and 2.7 rebounds and earning the team's freshman of the year award.

But after the start of her sophomore season the dream began to unravel.

"I was benched at the beginning of my sophomore year because I was supposed to be overweight," said McCoy, adding that her weight was normal at the time. "Then I was benched a few games later because I didn't show the coach (Billie Moore) a term paper."

The cruelest blow, however, occurred Jan. 25, 1984, a date McCoy says she will never forget.

"I was running the offense and we were ahead of Cal State Long Beach by 10 points when (the coach) took me out of my game and we ended up losing," McCoy said.

McCoy had allowed her classwork to slip and was ruled academically ineligible soon after the game. "It seemed like everything bad was happening to me all at once," she said.

McCoy said she could have improved her grades and stayed at UCLA but didn't like the Bruins' style of play. "They took away my fast breaking and fancy passes--the things I do best."

So McCoy decided to transfer, settling on Pomona after considering Division I programs, she said.

"I had talked to Coach May around March of that year," McCoy said. "They had a spring basketball class and I went over and asked Coach May if she thought I would fit into (her program)."

Why did McCoy transfer to Pomona when she could have played for a Division I team?

"For one, I didn't want to leave California," McCoy said. "Also, the schools in the area that were Division I were all in the same conference and I would have had to sit out two years (under conference rules). So I was looking for a place . . . where I could play sooner."

Pomona, a Division II power that plays most of its non-conference games against Division I teams, fit the bill nicely.

"I didn't mind dropping to Division II," McCoy said. "If you're a good player you can get noticed at any level. It doesn't have to be Division I."

"Playing Division I ball isn't everything," May added. "A lot of times a player goes to a Division I program and isn't that happy, and that's where Michelle was."

McCoy is happy to be playing for the Broncos and May is happy to have the lightning-quick ball handler.

"I don't know if I've seen a guard in the last few years who can do the kind of things she can with the ball," May said. "There are not too many teams that can (full-court) press us when she's in the lineup. She has tremendous court vision. She knows where everyone else is and can make the pass quickly.

"She also shoots the ball as well as any guard you could have."

Although McCoy made 57.7% of her shots last season, she prefers to emphasize passing and dribbling.

"I've always played like that," McCoy said. "I would rather make a good pass and watch someone else score than do it myself. If somebody wanted me to change my style I just wouldn't be the same player."

But McCoy has not had to change her style to suit May's disciplined approach to the game.

"Not knowing what to expect, I wasn't sure how much I would have to adjust," McCoy said. "But it has been pretty easy. Coach May doesn't mind what I do--as long as I do what she wants."

It may have been more of an adjustment for May, although the coach didn't mind the change.

"I knew that when you have a player like Michelle McCoy you have to give her some freedom for her to be effective," May said. "I know sometimes she loses the ball or makes a pass she shouldn't, but I think the bottom line is to look at the stats sheet."

McCoy averaged 12.6 points and 5.6 assists as a junior to earn second-team All-American honors and is averaging 14.2 points and, 6.3 assists to help carry the top-ranked Broncos to a 16-1 record.

McCoy said she will always look at last season with fondness.

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