Everyone was hugging Cal point guard Geno Carlisle outside the
New Arena locker room in Oakland, slapping him on the back and
pumping his hand. Carlisle had just scored 29 points in the
Bears' 78-71 upset of ninth-ranked North Carolina on Dec. 29,
and the congratulations were coming too fast for him to notice
who was offering them. But when one well-wisher extended his
hand and said, "Good game, young fella," Carlisle happened to
look up and focus on the man's face. It belonged to former North
Carolina and Los Angeles Lakers star James Worthy.
"I'm a big fan of yours," Carlisle told Worthy.
"After that game," replied Worthy, "I'm a big fan of yours."
Carlisle, a 6'3" senior, has made a lot of fans lately with his
flashy moves, late-game heroics and dead-on pull-up jumper. A
transfer from Northwestern, where he spent two seasons and was
All-Big Ten as a sophomore, Carlisle has become the catalyst for
25th-ranked Cal, which, at 9-2 through Sunday, is off to a
surprisingly fast start. "He definitely has a chance to play at
the next level," says Gary Fitzsimmons, the Golden State
Warriors' assistant general manager for basketball operations.
"He's capable of beating people off the dribble and creating his
own shot, and his ability to play both guard positions makes him
Carlisle, who was averaging a team-high 19.2 points at week's
end, won't let such flattering words go to his head. "I don't
like to get too comfortable," he says. "I don't want anything to
be easy. I guess I just like to make life hard sometimes."
That's one reason that, as a senior at Ottawa Hills High in
Grand Rapids, he chose struggling Northwestern over
Temple--though he transferred to Cal when the losing (the
Wildcats were 12-42 in his two seasons) became too depressing
for him. Carlisle so craves obstacles that he has gone out of
his way to create them. After scoring only five points in the
first game of the 1995-96 season at Northwestern, he
purposefully played so poorly in practice that he got himself
thrown out, which according to team rules meant he would lose
his starting job for the next game. He then came off the bench
to score 25 points. "It's kind of a weird way of thinking,"
Carlisle says, "but sometimes I do that kind of thing in order
to get myself motivated."
When Carlisle decided to transfer, he chose Cal because he liked
Bears coach Ben Braun, who had recruited him when Braun was at
Eastern Michigan. At Berkeley, Carlisle so far has controlled
his proclivity for saying what he thinks, though he rarely
hesitated to speak out while at Northwestern. As a freshman he
was suspended for spouting off in practice and violating what
Ricky Byrdsong, the Wildcats' coach at the time, called the team
opinion rule. "He was a freshman who thought he had an opinion,"
Carlisle insists that he never uttered the most outrageous
statement attributed to him by Byrdsong. When Carlisle was at
Northwestern, several newspapers quoted him as saying, "The only
player in Chicago who is better than me is Michael Jordan." But
Byrdsong says he had merely told reporters that that was the
kind of thing Carlisle might say.
Maybe Carlisle should take credit for the quote, since trying to
live up to it would be just the sort of motivation he likes. Life
couldn't be better for him at Cal right now, but where's the fun
COLOR PHOTO: GERRY GROPP [Geno Carlisle]