When he was bored as a youngster, Harold Miner used to open the encyclopedia, put his finger on a page and browse through the entries.
He must have spent a lot of time on the "B" volume--the volume with the heading basketball in it.
Because even though Miner is just 16, the junior from Inglewood High School has a sense on the basketball court far beyond his years. His coach, Vince Combs, says Miner's mature, poised game is more efficient than it is flamboyant.
"(Miner) is silky and graceful on the court," said Combs, whose Sentinels are 9-7 after a 64-63 loss on Friday to Santa Monica High. "Every hair is in place. There's something poetic even about his dunks.
"He's amazing and simply beautiful to watch."
So far this year, spectators and opponents have watched Miner pile up a scoring average of 24.2 points per game, second in the South Bay area only to Serra's James Moses (33 points per game after 12 games). The high scoring average is a tribute to his soft shooting touch anywhere from the post to the three-point stripe.
The 6-foot-5, 180-pound swing man is also averaging 10.6 rebounds per game. Combs says Miner's tremendous leaping ability, coupled with his unselfish off-court attitude, will make him one of the nation's most highly recruited prep players next year.
"I know I'm painting a picture of a near-perfect kid, but I'll go on the record and say he is," Combs said. "He doesn't have any flaws off the court, and before he leaves this school, he won't have any in basketball, either."
Combs has reason to be impressed with Miner's personality. On Jan. 5, when the sudden death of former NBA great Pete Maravich rocked the sports world, Miner told Combs he was dedicating the next night's game to Maravich, one of his all-time heroes. In that game, a 71-47 romp over Lynwood, Miner poured in 27 points and grabbed 8 rebounds despite a bout with the flu.
"I thought that was a hell of a note for a kid of 16 to do something like that," Combs said. "Harold's a sensitive young man who never thinks about himself--you can tell that by his body language."
The well-read young swing man (Miner is a 3.0 student) learned of Maravich's NBA heroics by devouring books about past basketball legends.
"I like how Pistol Pete dared to be different," Miner said. "He didn't accept the way basketball was being played at the time, and he wanted to push the game to its limits. He was able to create his own style."
Miner's own style also is different from most of his peers. Sixteen-year-olds often try to be so spectacular that they splatter missed slam dunks all over the court--or they're often jittery and their skills fade in a flurry of air balls and traveling violations. Miner, on the other hand, is so smooth he's usually unnoticeable.
"Sometimes it doesn't dawn on you that (Miner) has done absolutely everything right," Combs said. "But you look in the score book and he's got 25 or 30 points and you'd swear he never scored that many."
Miner is so slippery-smooth that he's earned the nickname "The Worm" (the varsity players tagged the freshman Miner with that moniker because he would "slither by them" in practice). And he's also lit up the scoreboard this season with some amazing barrages of streak shooting:
- In the consolation quarterfinal of the Tournament of Champions, Miner's 19-foot jump shot with six seconds left sealed Inglewood's 49-48 win over Santa Clara. He scored 11 of the Sentinels' 18 points in the final period.
- In the Pacific Shores Tournament consolation final, Miner ran up totals of 39 points, 11 rebounds, 5 steals and 5 blocked shots in a 63-62 double-overtime loss to Carson.
- In the Ocean League opener against Hawthorne, Inglewood raced to a 68-51 win with 16 points in the fourth period. Miner scored 11 of those and 25 overall.
He's also scored more than 23 points in all of his last three games, despite being hampered by the flu and despite the fact that opposing defenses are double- and triple-teaming him.
"Naturally, we're looking for him when we need to score and so is the other team," Combs said. "But we usually seem to get a pass out to him quicker. The best way to defend against (Miner) would be to take his uniform before the game."
While Miner is the primary scorer in Inglewood's machine, he's also learning to play tough, hard-nosed defense.
"My defense is coming around," Miner said. "I usually play the first man in the press and I have to run all over the court, so I'm learning the hard way."
Miner has all the skills to play the guard position, but spends most of his time on Inglewood's wing because of the Sentinels' lack of height. So if he grows more to fill out his size-15 shoes, college recruiters looking for a big guard will be beating a path to Miner's door next year.
"He should be one of the top five recruits in the nation," said Combs, who was assistant coach in charge of recruiting at University of San Francisco from 1981-82 before that school discontinued its basketball program. "He's going to make some college coach really happy. Maybe I'll open up a university of my own.
"(Miner) has great shooting range. He could be a really tough, big off guard--you could post him up or gun him from 20 feet. I'd recruit him in a minute."
"He's just a superior athlete," said Don Mead, director of an Irvine-based scouting agency that provides reports for 180 colleges and universities. "He's a fantastic jumper for high school and very quick for his size."
Right now, Miner has his eye on five universities--North Carolina, UCLA, Arizona, Georgetown and Syracuse--but it's still too early for much more than a cursory look. Nonetheless, Combs is already preparing Miner and his other players for recruiting wars.
"We spend two-thirds of practice here dealing with life in general," said Combs. "If your life is in control off the court, then the game of basketball is a very simple game.
"Our kids will need to have grades, and they'll need to have character. I'm not going to allow a kid to be bought here. Because after you sell yourself, what else do you have left to sell?"
Combs said he took the same approach during his earlier stint at Inglewood, from 1977-80. In that period, Combs coached stars like Jay Humphries, who went to Colorado and now plays point guard for the Phoenix Suns, and Ralph Jackson, who was a long-time starter at guard for UCLA.
And Combs says Miner is at the same stage of development as a junior as his earlier stars. And he says Miner's unselfish personality gives him the advantage in preparing for recruitment.
"Harold's so unassuming, but he has the sort of personality that stands out," Combs said. "And he has an infectious, tremendous smile that makes him look just like Michael Jordan."
That's a comparison that Miner doesn't mind at all. One of his biggest heroes is Jordan, the stellar Chicago Bulls guard who is known as much for his good looks and sartorial splendor as his high point totals.
"A lot of people tell me I look like Jordan," Miner said shyly. "I don't get a big head over it, but it sure is nice."
Combs has the same sentiments about his star swing man.
"To search in my mind all of the poetry that I've read and written, I still can't find the words to describe him," said Combs, who dabbles in prose and verse off the court. "In one word, he's simply 'a gift.' That's Harold Miner."