Nearly Three Years Between Baskets : Prep Star Had Bumpy Road to Success at Cal State

Times Staff Writer

When Trisha Maly of Cal State Los Angeles scored her first basket in the opening half of a game against Cal Lutheran on Jan. 3, it ended a long scoring drought for the junior forward.

Nearly three years, to be more specific.

That was in February of 1986--the last time Maly had appeared in a college basketball game--and she was playing for Pepperdine.

But by the time the game against Cal Lutheran was over, Maly had scored 20 points and hardly seemed to have lost a step.


In her first five games since joining the Golden Eagles, the 22-year-old Maly has averaged a team-high 15.8 points and has made 66% of her field goals and 92.9% of free throws.

From all appearances, the return of the attractive 6-0 and 145-pound blonde to college basketball has been as smooth as silk.

Only Maly was all too familiar with the difficulties in her past that brought her to this point.

After an outstanding prep career at Mark Keppel High in Alhambra, where she had earned All-CIF Southern Section and All-San Gabriel Valley honors in 1984, Maly was recruited by UC Berkeley, Arizona, Arizona State, UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii and Pepperdine.

There was an instant attraction to Pepperdine, though. “I went to Pepperdine on a recruiting trip and it was just beautiful,” Maly remembers. “So I decided to go there, and I thought everything was great.”

By the end of her freshman season with the Waves, when she had emerged as a starting forward, Maly appeared to have a bright future at the school.

However, shortly into her sophomore season, Maly’s basketball career began to turn into a nightmare.

“It started after the season started and, little by little, the coach (Ron Fortner) and I weren’t getting along personality-wise,” she said. “We had meetings but we couldn’t work it out.”

It was starting to affect her class work, she said. An excellent student in high school and at the start of college, Maly said she received low grades in her sophomore year at Pepperdine.

That’s when she decided to leave.

“I even tried to talk to the school president,” she said. “But when we couldn’t work it out I just decided to leave.”

After her experience at Pepperdine, Maly kept her distance from school and basketball for most of the next three years.

Her basketball playing was limited to occasional pickup games in the park. “I played a little at the parks and I worked out at Jack LaLanne’s to stay in shape,” Maly said.

Much of her time was spent as a cocktail waitress, usually earning tips of $100 or more a night, she said. She was doing so well financially that she bought a BMW luxury car, she recalled.

Although she enjoyed her work, she was starting to think about returning to college. “The money was great,” she said. “But I got to realize that you can’t make a career out of it.”

She also received a friendly push from her parents to return to school. “I have two older sisters (Keelie, 27, and Inger, 25) and they graduated from college, so my parents were encouraging me to go back to school.”

So she decided to inquire in December about attending school and playing basketball at Cal State Los Angeles, which was close to her parents’ home in Monterey Park.

Coach Fran Buckless, whose team was suffering from injuries, was more than happy to run an eligibility check with the NCAA for Maly.

“It was right before the second quarter (of classes) began and she had approached me about what her eligibility was, so we checked it out,” Buckless said. “I think we had an opportunity to give her an opportunity and we were very glad for that.”

When she started practicing with the team Jan. 2, she discovered how much she had missed the game.

“I missed the camaraderie most,” Maly said. “I missed being a part of the team. Plus all my friends were athletes and all the guys I dated were athletes. So I was used to hanging around in those circles.

“I also missed just feeling good about my talents, and now I have confidence in my play. It’s been very good for my ego. When you’re part of a team you feel special. You feel like you belong somewhere and I like that feeling.”

At first, Maly concedes she was concerned that she would have problems similar to those at Pepperdine. But she has been quick to establish a good relationship with the coaches and teammates.

“They really helped me get started and worked with me,” Maly said. “Tina (Slatinsky, a teammate) took me under her wing and told me what classes to take and she’s like my best friend.

“It’s been like heaven to me because it was such a bad experience at Pepperdine, and now to have such a positive experience here is so wonderful. . . . I was thinking that maybe the girls wouldn’t accept me because they were already together and here was this new girl coming in and taking away their playing time. But because of injuries and because we didn’t really have a set lineup, it has worked out well.”

For that matter, Buckless has had nothing short of glowing praise for Maly since she joined the squad.

“We needed her type of player to come into our program and it’s worked out real well,” Buckless said. “She’s just fit well into our team’s philosophy and she’s just a very unselfish player. She’s also a super person all-around and we’re real pleased to have her.”

The coach said she has been surprised at how fast Maly has picked up her team’s offense.

“She’s a very bright person and she picks up things very quickly in terms of basketball terminology,” Buckless said. “She picks up things and makes changes well. I think she’s been in a situation where she’s tried to come in and learn the system, and she’s done a good job.”

Maly says her experience with the Golden Eagles has been a far cry from the despair she was feeling before she left Pepperdine.

“It was starting to break me down,” she said. “I was doubting myself as a basketball player and I was wondering, ‘Is he right? Maybe he is right.’ ”

Now she uses her bad memories of Pepperdine as a motivating factor.

“There are a lot of things that motivate me, but one big thing is I want to get my confidence back and show him (Fortner) that he was wrong about me. I want to show that I’m a pretty good basketball player. I’m not just a pretty girl running around in a basketball uniform.”

While she doesn’t dwell on her appearance, Maly is hardly just another pretty face. She was selected Miss Monterey Park in 1984.

Since she started her college career, she has heard her share of whistles and complimentary calls from fans during games.

“I haven’t gotten so much here because I’ve played only five games,” she said. “But I get used to it. I’d hear things like, ‘Don’t mess up your hair or don’t smear your makeup.’ ”

Maly said she is fortunate to have teammates such as center Lupe Quintana and Slatinsky.

“With Tina, Lupe and me, they call us Charlie’s Angels ,” she says. “We all try to curl our hair and wear makeup and look good. It’s kind of like proving a point. You don’t have to be all muscular to play basketball. You can still be feminine and play basketball well.”

Maly says the fact that she wore makeup and wanted to look good for games may have been a sore point with her coach at Pepperdine.

But Buckless doesn’t mind at all. If anything, the coach encourages it and says that Maly has a bright future with the Golden Eagles.

“The thing I really like about Trisha is she’s bright enough and wants to live up to the challenges in her life,” Buckless said. “I think you’ll see nothing but great things from her. Each day she improves a little, and I think she just wants to get better and better.”

With a new lease on her basketball life, Maly is also confident that she will finish her college career a lot happier than when she started.