The long legs of senior Chana Perry, San Diego State's 6'5" All-America center, hurt too much for her to practice on Friday, but she still got off the day's best shot—a cup of ice water right in coach Earnest Riggins's face. As water dripped from his salt-and-pepper beard, Riggins could only grin.
Revenge can be sweet. Riggins has been terrorizing the Aztecs recently with various water-related tricks. One time he overturned a bucket above a cowering player who didn't know it was empty. Another time he drew squeals on the team bus by stuffing wadded-up tissue in a cup and hurling the contents at his neighbors.
"Chana topped me," said Riggins after Friday's sneak attack. "She had real water in hers."
Says Jan Martin, assistant coach of the 18th-ranked Aztecs, "On this team Chana's the instigator, perpetrator and all the rest. She's always calling people Bucket Head and Garbage Bag Head."
Out on the floor, though, Perry is also the instigator, perpetrator and all the rest. A dazzling combination of inside power and outside finesse, she opened the season with 31 points and 27 rebounds against Alabama State and has been among the nation's leaders in both categories ever since. At the end of last week Perry was averaging 26.7 points and 14 rebounds per game.
"She can play the post, high or low," says Riggins. "She can penetrate. She can defend. She can hit the baseline jump shot. If she has to, she can play point guard and bring the ball upcourt."
In short, Perry can do it all—when her legs let her. In late January inflammation in both Achilles tendons sidelined her for 11 days. For seven of those days she wore a toe-to-knee cast on her right leg. When the cast came off on Feb. 6, she saw little improvement. "The leg still feels the same," she says. "Really tight and sore."
So she plays hurt. Three days after the cast was removed, Perry had 17 points and 18 rebounds in a 66-61 win over Fresno State. On Saturday she had 13 points in 19 painful minutes in an 84-52 rout of San Jose State. "She's going to be a role player for a while," says Riggins.
Perry didn't take up basketball until she was a ninth-grader at Alexander Junior High in Brookhaven, Miss. "I was very self-conscious about how tall I was," says Perry, who was 5'11" at age 13. "I went around slumped over because I didn't want to be noticed." Three years later, as a senior at Brookhaven High, she was the most noticed schoolgirl player in the country, and several publications named her national girls' high school Player of the Year.
As a freshman at nearby Northeast Louisiana in 1984-85 she led the Lady Indians to the Final Four and a 30-2 regular-season record. Then in January 1986 the NCAA put Northeast Louisiana on probation for a year for having improperly recruited Perry—it had been found guilty of transportation and lodging violations. As further punishment the NCAA ruled that Perry could no longer play for the Indians. She transferred to San Diego State, sat out a year and came back strong last season, when she shared the Big West Conference's Player of the Year honors with Penny Toler of Long Beach State, and set a league single-season women's rebounding record with 392 and made a school-record 26 straight free throws.
Last summer Perry was the final player cut from the U.S. women's Olympic team, which won the gold medal. "For the life of me, I don't know why she didn't make the Olympics," says Riggins. "They said they wanted another power forward. She can hit the 18-foot jumper and go to the bucket. What else would you want a power forward to do?"
Perry may try the Olympics again in 1992. In the meantime she hopes to get her degree in criminal justice while working for Riggins next season as a graduate assistant. Then she might try pro ball in Italy.
Maybe the Italians will do a better job of pronouncing her first name than her countrymen have. "It irritates me," says Perry. "People call me SHAN-na and CHAN-na—everything but SHAH-na, which is correct. Not even my teammates get it right. They call me CHAIN-a!"
Well, what do you expect from a bunch of Garbage Bag Heads.
Despite her sore Achilles tendons, Perry is scoring 26.7 points a game for the Aztecs.