At first, it was difficult for Tyrone Paul to play basketball at El Camino College. The small crowds that usually show up for Warrior home games seemed a world apart from the environment he had become accustomed to.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore forward was used to large, noisy crowds. As a freshman at Clemson last season, he had played before thousands of fans.
"I started out slow here because it was hard to get motivated," Paul said. "At Clemson there were 15 to 20,000 fans at every game. Here maybe 30 people show up. It was hard to get going."
After his senior season at Morningside in 1989-90, Paul was recruited by Oregon, Cal State Long Beach, Texas El Paso and Loyola Marymount. He accepted a scholarship to attend Clemson, only to become homesick midway through his freshman season.
"My phone bill was $200 to $300 every month," he said.
He quit the team at the end of the school year and moved back to Inglewood, where he spent endless hours playing in recreation basketball leagues as a youth.
But Paul was not satisfied with the development of his athletic career at the South Carolina school, either.
"I got off and on playing time," he said. "It was inconsistent. I didn't care how much time I played, I just wanted it to be consistent. I'd play a couple of minutes in one game and maybe start another game, then I wouldn't play for two games. I never knew when I was going to play and it was frustrating."
Paul said he left Clemson on good terms. He frequently wears a Clemson Tiger cap to practices at El Camino.
After returning to Inglewood in July, Paul decided to enroll at El Camino after talking to Carl Franklin, his coach at Morningside. Paul, 20, has noticed a big difference in intensity between Clemson and El Camino.
"In Division I there's a lot more pressure in practice," he said. "At a (community college) you only practice two hours. At Clemson we practiced from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., then we'd go to class and practice again from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. There, every game is a big game."
Paul starts at power forward for the Warriors (9-8), who open South Coast Conference play on Jan. 18 at Pasadena City College. He leads the SCC in rebounds per game (10) and he averages 11 points and 4.8 assists.
"Tyrone is really a gifted athlete," said Harbor College Coach Carl Strong, whose team lost, 99-74, to El Camino last week. "There's no question about it, he's the most gifted athlete we'll play against this year. There's not that many guys that have his ability, and he plays hard."
El Camino Coach Paul Landreaux, who has guided the Warriors to three state titles, says Paul is the backbone of this season's team.
"The statistics don't do him any justice," Landreaux said. "He does a lot of little things you don't see in the stats that really help us. He has great leaping ability and great quickness when he has the ball.
"What I really like is his unselfishness around the basket. A lot of times he'll make passes when he should shoot."
That was the case throughout most of Paul's high school career. He averaged 20.5 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots as a senior and was selected to The Times 1989-90 South Bay All-Star team.
"He's an excellent team player," said point guard Donald Sanders, Paul's teammate at Morningside and El Camino. "He just likes to win and it doesn't matter how many points he gets."
Paul was the Ocean League most valuable player in 1989-90 after helping the Monarchs win their sixth league title in seven seasons. Morningside reached the quarterfinals of the Southern Section 3-AA Division playoffs that year.
"That was one of the most complete teams we've ever had here," Franklin said. "Tyrone really came on as a senior. He had a growth spurt between his junior and senior years. He grew physically and as a result his jumping ability improved. He also had decent ball-handling skills."
Paul says he went from 6 foot 2 to 6-4 between seasons. It was a surprise, he says, because both his parents are under 6 feet.
"I never thought I was gonna grow to be that tall," he said. "It was great."
Then came his experience at Clemson.
"At the time Clemson was the best place for me," he said. "Going to Clemson was a good experience. It was my first time away from home, my first time on my own. I met a lot of good people. I don't regret it."
Paul expects to play at a Division I school next year. A sprained ankle kept him out of five games in November, but he is fully recovered. Landreaux says several schools have contacted him about Paul.
"He'll get a scholarship," Landreaux said. "Colorado and New Mexico State have already shown interest in him."
Paul says he wouldn't mind playing in the Pacific 10 Conference, but he prefers the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Big East. He is willing to go out of the state to play, but for now he is enjoying the familiar surroundings.
"The other night when we played I had about 15 friends there watching me and my family," he said. "No matter what they say, there's no place like home."