Female Athlete Spotlight: Cheryl Miller

There are very few female athletes that have been as influential to a particular sport as Cheryl Miller has been to basketball. While Cheryl’s younger brother Reggie was surely one the greatest shooters, competitors, and clutch performers in NBA history, many consider him to actually be the second best basketball player and athlete in the Miller family, and Cheryl the best of the two. The Miller siblings were notably the first pair of siblings to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — Cheryl, first, in 1995 and Reggie, later, in 2012.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cheryl Miller gained extraordinary national attention as a storybook female basketball standout at Riverside Polytechnic High School (then known as Riverside High School) in California. In each of her four seasons playing on her high school’s varsity basketball team, she was named an All-American, while leading the Bears to a remarkable 132-4 record during that span (including an 84-game winning streak in the process), averaging 32.8 points per game and 15 rebounds per game. Her most unforgettable moment in high school came in her senior year when she scored a still-standing single-game state record: 105 points. 

Miller, who received over 250 scholarship offers, opted to stay close to home and attend the University of Southern California (USC). There, she would play alongside Pamela McGee (her freshman and sophomore years overlapped McGee’s junior and senior years) and Cynthia Cooper (when she was healthy), another two of the all-time great women’s basketball players. In Miller’s freshman and sophomore seasons (1982-83 and 1983-84), she, the NCAA All-American, led the unbelievably talented Trojans to two consecutive NCAA championships. Both of those times (1983 and 1984), she was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament. 1984 was also one of three consecutive seasons where she would be named the Naismith College Player of the Year. The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles would give Miller the opportunity to showcase her excellence on the basketball court to the entire planet, and she made the most of that opportunity by leading the USA Women’s Olympic Basketball Team to the gold medal. Miller’s junior year at USC earned her the Wade trophy and by her senior year, Sports Illustrated named her the best athlete (both male and female) in all of college sports. Miller completed her remarkable college career with a 23.6 point per game and 12 rebound per game average, before her jersey No. 31 was immortalized in the Trojan rafters. Unfortunately, the WNBA was not established until a decade after her senior year at USC, after injuries had ended her playing career in other professional basketball leagues, and after she had already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But Miller surely transcended the sport as a female megastar, making it conceivable that a professional league like the WNBA could one day exist. Miller has stayed involved in the basketball world in several different capacities throughout her life, most notably as a sideline reporter for primetime NBA games. In 2018, the Cheryl Miller award was first established, which is annually voted upon and awarded to the best small forward in NCAA Division l women’s basketball. Miller will always be considered one of the greatest small forwards in women’s basketball history, as well as one of the finest all-around female basketball players and transcendent female athletes of all-time.

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