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He's Got Game, Fame

Romeo Miller is serious about becoming as big a hit in basketball as he is in the music and television industries

January 17, 2007|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

If there are any shrieking teenage girls clutching camera phones whenever Beverly Hills High is playing a basketball game, they're probably focused on the team's starting point guard, Romeo Miller, rapper, TV star and pop idol.

Miller walked into the Beverly Hills gym 90 minutes before game time last week, wearing a red ski cap, and most of the Hawthorne cheerleaders turned in unison toward him.

"He's a cutie," one gushed.

During the Simi Valley tournament in November, Miller was subjected to requests to pose for photos before games and to sign autographs after.

When Beverly Hills Coach Luis Turcios wondered why there were so many people in the stands for a road game against Saugus last month, he was told, "Everyone wants to see a movie star."

"We make fun of it," senior guard Daniel Placik said. "We imitate his fans, 'Oh, Romeo.' "

Everything Miller does is flashy and cool, from the way he dribbles between his legs and his custom braids to his spotless white headband and sparkling earrings.

If the NBA were looking for a 17-year-old to be its spokesman, Miller could do it. Except Miller wants to be a real pro player, not a promoter.

He's so serious about his basketball that he practices constantly, receives private tutoring from former NBA great Nate Archibald and tries to arrange his acting and music schedules around summer camps and travel-ball schedules.

"I've been playing basketball since the age of 2," he said. "I'm real committed to it. It's a serious game for me."

Miller, a junior, started for two years at tiny, private Los Angeles Windward before transferring to Beverly Hills, where he's averaging 17 points and five assists this season.

He had a tough decision to make: playing basketball or making movies.

Last season, he left Windward in the middle of the season because of an acting commitment. This season, he turned down a chance to appear in a movie during winter vacation in order to stay with his team.

"I put everything on hold," he said. "I've got people mad at me."

But that comes with trying to juggle entertainment opportunities while trying to live the life of a normal teenager.

"That's why I'm in school right now," he said. "I've put the whole Hollywood thing behind me right now. This only comes once in a lifetime. I've got cousins and friends who wished they could have gone to school."

Miller, who is 5 feet 11, sat out four games while Beverly Hills confirmed his eligibility after he was home-schooled while filming in New Orleans last year. The team's record is 9-7, but 8-4 when he has played.

Whatever Miller may accomplish in basketball, he won't have any problem dealing with media or fans because his success in music and acting has prepared him for the celebrity treatment.

He recently completed filming the fourth and, perhaps, final season of "Romeo!" his TV series on Nickelodeon about a teenage boy interested in music and basketball. He co-starred with Jessica Alba in the 2003 movie "Honey."

His father, rapper, actor and music mogul Percy Miller, known as Master P, is always watching out for him on and off the court.

Miller's father had a run-in with his son's former coach at Windward. But he has stayed away from intervening at Beverly Hills, understanding that his son is growing up and learning to make his own decisions.

"Whatever he wanted to do, I'd support him as a parent," Percy Miller said. "Most kids who end up as famous don't get to be a regular kid."

His father got invited to try out for a couple of NBA teams and likes basketball as much as his son.

"I think it's a great thing," he said. "It's hard work."

Miller has been taught by his parents that he can achieve anything he wants as long as he works hard at it. That means he must get A's and Bs in school or his extracurricular activities cease.

He attends regular classes rather than being home-schooled because he wants to stay in touch with normal teenage life.

"It keeps me down to earth and humble," he said. "That's where a lot of child actors miss out. They're missing a lot of things going on in the real world. I love going to school."

He chose to transfer to Beverly Hills because it allows him to face stronger competition in basketball and to blend in with celebrities' sons and daughters already attending the public school.

"At the beginning, when I first saw him at the high school, it was like, 'Oh my God, it's Romeo,' " freshman Jayanne Aldanese said. "Now it's normal."

Beverly Hills has more than its share of children from those in the entertainment industry. Wesley Cage, son of actor Nicolas Cage, is on the wrestling team. Other children of producers and directors walk the halls.

"The celebrities just fit right in," Principal Jay Guidetti said. "It sounds corny, but there's a real sense of normalcy and no emphasis on celebrity."

That suits Miller just fine because he's serious about his basketball. He plays with the passion of a neighborhood gym rat and talks with the confidence of an actor who's not reading lines.

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