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Nearly Three Years Between Baskets : Prep Star Had Bumpy Road to Success at Cal State

January 26, 1989|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

When Trisha Maly of Cal State Los Angeles scored her first basket in the opening half of a game against Cal Lutheran on Jan. 3, it ended a long scoring drought for the junior forward.

Nearly three years, to be more specific.

That was in February of 1986--the last time Maly had appeared in a college basketball game--and she was playing for Pepperdine.

But by the time the game against Cal Lutheran was over, Maly had scored 20 points and hardly seemed to have lost a step.

In her first five games since joining the Golden Eagles, the 22-year-old Maly has averaged a team-high 15.8 points and has made 66% of her field goals and 92.9% of free throws.

From all appearances, the return of the attractive 6-0 and 145-pound blonde to college basketball has been as smooth as silk.

Only Maly was all too familiar with the difficulties in her past that brought her to this point.

After an outstanding prep career at Mark Keppel High in Alhambra, where she had earned All-CIF Southern Section and All-San Gabriel Valley honors in 1984, Maly was recruited by UC Berkeley, Arizona, Arizona State, UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii and Pepperdine.

There was an instant attraction to Pepperdine, though. "I went to Pepperdine on a recruiting trip and it was just beautiful," Maly remembers. "So I decided to go there, and I thought everything was great."

By the end of her freshman season with the Waves, when she had emerged as a starting forward, Maly appeared to have a bright future at the school.

However, shortly into her sophomore season, Maly's basketball career began to turn into a nightmare.

"It started after the season started and, little by little, the coach (Ron Fortner) and I weren't getting along personality-wise," she said. "We had meetings but we couldn't work it out."

It was starting to affect her class work, she said. An excellent student in high school and at the start of college, Maly said she received low grades in her sophomore year at Pepperdine.

That's when she decided to leave.

"I even tried to talk to the school president," she said. "But when we couldn't work it out I just decided to leave."

After her experience at Pepperdine, Maly kept her distance from school and basketball for most of the next three years.

Her basketball playing was limited to occasional pickup games in the park. "I played a little at the parks and I worked out at Jack LaLanne's to stay in shape," Maly said.

Much of her time was spent as a cocktail waitress, usually earning tips of $100 or more a night, she said. She was doing so well financially that she bought a BMW luxury car, she recalled.

Although she enjoyed her work, she was starting to think about returning to college. "The money was great," she said. "But I got to realize that you can't make a career out of it."

She also received a friendly push from her parents to return to school. "I have two older sisters (Keelie, 27, and Inger, 25) and they graduated from college, so my parents were encouraging me to go back to school."

So she decided to inquire in December about attending school and playing basketball at Cal State Los Angeles, which was close to her parents' home in Monterey Park.

Coach Fran Buckless, whose team was suffering from injuries, was more than happy to run an eligibility check with the NCAA for Maly.

"It was right before the second quarter (of classes) began and she had approached me about what her eligibility was, so we checked it out," Buckless said. "I think we had an opportunity to give her an opportunity and we were very glad for that."

When she started practicing with the team Jan. 2, she discovered how much she had missed the game.

"I missed the camaraderie most," Maly said. "I missed being a part of the team. Plus all my friends were athletes and all the guys I dated were athletes. So I was used to hanging around in those circles.

"I also missed just feeling good about my talents, and now I have confidence in my play. It's been very good for my ego. When you're part of a team you feel special. You feel like you belong somewhere and I like that feeling."

At first, Maly concedes she was concerned that she would have problems similar to those at Pepperdine. But she has been quick to establish a good relationship with the coaches and teammates.

"They really helped me get started and worked with me," Maly said. "Tina (Slatinsky, a teammate) took me under her wing and told me what classes to take and she's like my best friend.

"It's been like heaven to me because it was such a bad experience at Pepperdine, and now to have such a positive experience here is so wonderful. . . . I was thinking that maybe the girls wouldn't accept me because they were already together and here was this new girl coming in and taking away their playing time. But because of injuries and because we didn't really have a set lineup, it has worked out well."

For that matter, Buckless has had nothing short of glowing praise for Maly since she joined the squad.

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