Notebook / Ray Ripton : Ex-Wave Cager Levy Middlebrooks Clears First Pro Hurdle

Ex-Pepperdine basketball star Levy Middlebrooks has cleared the first hurdle in his tryout with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but Eric White, his former teammate with the Waves, was released by the Cavaliers this week after both attended a camp last week for rookies and free agents in Richfield, Ohio.

A spokesman for the National Basketball Assn. team said the 6-6 1/2 Middlebrooks will be evaluated further when he plays in the NBA summer league in early August at Loyola Marymount University.

He will play for a team that combines Cavalier hopefuls with rookies and free agents for the Dallas Mavericks. The Cleveland contingent includes veteran center Chris Dudley, second-round draft choice Winston Bennett, a 6-7 forward from Kentucky, and rookie free agents Paul Maley , a 6-7 forward from Yale, and Gary Vose, a 6-9 forward-center from Notre Dame.

Why would a Princeton graduate, even if he was an All-American defensive back for the Tigers, be trying out as a free agent for the Buffalo Bills--particularly when he feels that his future is in writing and acting in films?

"I've been asking myself that question since I've been here," said Dean Cain, the former Santa Monica High School star, from the Bills' training camp in Fredonia, N.Y.

The response of Cain, a Times All-Westside prep selection as a senior in 1983, was: "I had to do it. If I hadn't, I would have sat and watched (NFL games on) television and wondered If I could have made it. Now I'll know."

Indeed he will, and probably sooner than he'd like. Cain admits that "chances are I won't make it." The Bills have 16 defensive backs in camp, he said. Nine probably will be cut, and "five or six veterans have their jobs locked up."

Cain is trying out as a strong safety, where his competition includes Dwight Drain, the starter last year, and Alan Dial of UCLA. He said former UCLA defensive back Ron Pitts played some at strong safety for the Bills last year but was mostly a backup at free safety for starter Mark Kelso.

"It's going to be tough," Cain said. "So many things could happen. But I'm confident I could do the job if given the opportunity, if conditions permit and I stay healthy and such."

Cain certainly did the job at Princeton, where he set an NCAA Division 1-AA record with 12 interceptions in one season. He also set school records with three interceptions in one game and 22 career pass thefts.

But that was Princeton, not the NFL. Cain said playing in the Ivy League was "a handicap in a sense. I'm not used to seeing this kind of speed and talent."

He said that players who came from colleges that are football powers have a big advantage over Ivy League players. "They know more football and understand the game a little better. They come from more big-time programs, and it's more rigid for them. For them, it's a year-round sport. We were allowed one day of spring practice at Princeton."

He said he has quickly come to realize that pro football is "a business, and I'm not used to being in that type of environment. If you screw up, it's trouble--which makes it very difficult to keep your composure under this kind of pressure."

"We're asked to learn so much in so short a time that it amazes me. You don't want to screw up. A harsh word from a coach in the wrong light makes it seem that he's talking about cutting you."

Cain will probably be amazed if he's still around when the Bills cut their roster to 60 players by Aug. 23. But graduates of Ivy League colleges do get to the NFL now and then. Running back Calvin Hill and defensive back Gary Fencik both went to Yale, and both were NFL stars, Hill with the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns and Fencik with the Chicago Bears. Princeton graduate Bob Hawley played some quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

If he doesn't earn a job with the Bills, Cain said he hopes to work in films as a writer, actor, producer and possibly director.

He would have some close associates in the movies. His father, Christopher, is a producer-director, whose credits include such movies as "The Principal" featuring Jim Belushi and "The Young Guns." which will star Santa Monica High alumni Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, sons of actor Martin Sheen. His mother, Sharon Thomas, has acted in "The Flamingo Kid" and "Star Trek III."

Darryn Brooks, a Santa Monica College graduate, was 12 when he was paralyzed from the waist down after he was a mistaken victim of a gang drive-by shooting in South-Central Los Angeles in 1980.

Like so many other young boys, Brooks, now a 20-year-old recreational therapist in the psychiatric unit at Dominguez Medical Center in Long Beach, had dreamed of playing professional basketball. That became impossible after he was shot, but he has become a top wheelchair basketball player.

Brooks, a perennial all-star with the Los Angeles Stars wheelchair team, is currently playing in Sweden for a U.S. team against a Swedish wheelchair team as part of a 6-nation tournament that includes games for able-bodied players. The U.S. team is sponsored by Amateur Sports Development-U.S., a nonprofit group that arranges sports exchange programs. He will also play in early September at the World Expo in Brisbane, Australia.

Jo Kidd, director of recreation and leisure studies at Santa Monica College, said Brooks, one of her former students, "is a phenomenal athlete and a gutsy young man."

Brooks said that he thinks he had "a good chance of playing pro ball" before he was shot but that he loves wheelchair basketball. "(It) keeps me in shape, and it let's me know I can do something physically active."

Marvin Cobos, 13, may have thought he would be good in his first season of playing organized baseball, but he probably never dreamed that he would be perfect.

Cobos, a pitcher for the Hollywood Expos Little League team, set down 21 Poinsettia Twins in order, struck out 11 and hurled a perfect game this season at Hollywood Recreation Center. He paced the Expos to a 13-0 victory over the Twins.

Mary Ann Koenig, coach of the Expos, said that a check of records showed that the last perfect game at the Hollywood park was in 1977 and that a perfecta had never been thrown there in a Little League major division game.

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