Gorham Looks for Fresh Start at CS Northridge : College basketball: Former high school sensation who left Cal awaits his debut next season with Matadors.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Coaches from 18 NCAA Division I schools visited Geoff Gorham at his Riverside home when he was a senior at Ramona High. The 6-foot-7 guard was among the most heavily recruited players on the West Coast.

A few years years later, he plays in relative obscurity at Riverside City College. His Division I debut has been delayed until next season, when he will become a most unlikely member of the Cal State Northridge basketball team.

The Matadors' record at the Division I level (which stands at 9-30 in 1 1/2 seasons) did not repel Gorham though he was once recruited by Duke, the nation's No. 1-ranked team. In fact, Gorham says he is grateful to Northridge Coach Pete Cassidy and his staff for the chance to play.

Ironically, Cassidy once feared that Gorham was "too good" to consider Northridge, according to Gorham's junior college coach, Bob Schermerhorn.

Actually, Northridge was the only school to offer Gorham a scholarship during the early signing period.

Other schools apparently wanted to see how he fared in his second season at Riverside. He averaged 18.9 points last season.

Gorham's second go-round in the recruiting process was much different from the hectic, ego-boosting experience he encountered the last time around.

Gorham works as a projectionist at a Riverside movie theater, and he saw part of that life on screen, in the film "One on One."

Like the character Robbie Benson played in the movie, Gorham was one of the top high school players in the nation.

As a junior at Ramona, he averaged 23 points, eight rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.5 blocked shots and two steals a game.

Gorham received honorable mention honors on the Street & Smith's magazine All-American team, and he was a first-team selection on the Long Beach Press Telegram's Best in the West team. At the Super Stars Camp in Santa Barbara, he was recognized as one of the top 15 players, and he competed in the prestigious Kentucky Prep All-American Festival.

"I remember him back then," Cassidy said. "And I knew the schools who were interested and I was not gonna spin my wheels."

Gorham was inundated with letters and phone calls from college coaches and was given the red-carpet treatment at camps and all-star tournaments.

He admits, his ego "exploded" with the attention he received, but he maintained some perspective. He canceled a visit to Duke when he realized that Coach Mike Krzyzewski was recruiting players with skills superior to his.

After visits to Colorado, New Mexico and California, Gorham chose the Golden Bears and signed a national letter of intent before his senior season.

But before the start of his senior season, he suffered an ankle injury, sustaining ligament damage, and played in only the last five games of the season. Still, he averaged 20.5 points and six rebounds.

Because he missed so much playing time as a high school senior, Gorham preferred not to redshirt as a freshman at Cal, but Coach Lou Campanelli insisted. Disenchanted, Gorham decided to transfer.

Gary Colson, a Cal assistant, helped him enroll at Brigham Young for the spring semester. Because he did not play at Cal, Gorham would have been eligible to play for the Cougars in the fall of 1990, but his stay in Provo, Utah, was a short one.

A Catholic, Gorham felt uncomfortable at a school composed primarily of members of the Mormon Church.

"They left pamphlets about the church under my door and the missionaries would talk to me at practice," Gorham said. "I didn't fit in because I was not a member of the church. There were a lot of activities I couldn't go to. It got to be a little much so I humbled myself and went home."

His life is much simpler now. He lives with his parents, attends class and basketball practice, writes for the school paper, works at the movie theater and looks forward to playing for Cassidy.

"I figure if a man is gonna look at me after all the places I've been, I'm grateful," Gorham said. "Northridge is struggling right now but with a few key recruits we can contend.

"All the things I wanted were at Northridge. Broadcast journalism and being close to home so mom and dad can watch me play. I'd much rather stay away from the big-time programs. There's too much politics."

Gorham intended to wait until the spring signing period before choosing a school but was so impressed with Cassidy that he decided not to wait.

"He was great," Gorham said. "He was really, really honest with me. Coach Cassidy has been there 21 years. That's respectable. I talked to players who played for him and coaches who coached against him. Everyone said great things about him."

Cassidy is equally complimentary.

"Geoff can shoot, run the floor and he jumps well," Cassidy said. "We were in the right place at the right time and we had his major. He's happy to be here and we're happy to have him."

At 6-7, Gorham is as tall as Northridge's centers, but Cassidy would like him to play on the perimeter where he is an adept three-point shooter.

Schermerhorn, Gorham's coach at Riverside, is cautiously optimistic about Gorham's future.

"He could be a steal," Schermerhorn said. "He might be seeing the light now and playing to his potential, but I don't think Geoff is gonna be a guy to take Northridge to the next level. He can be a complimentary player.

"Northridge took the chance signing him early. Geoff could have a great season here and Northridge could have lost him to other schools."

Gorham's weakness is strength, or lack of it, although he gained 15 pounds, up to 212, after spending much of the summer in the weight room.

Gorham claims that the appeal of playing right away did not affect his decision to attend Northridge.

"I hope they would not tell me I'd start right away," he said. "I've heard that before. I'd like to earn that starting role.

"When you are 17 or 18 years old and coaches tell you that you will start and average so many points a game, it is an ego booster. It makes your head explode. I would tell kids coming out of high school now never to believe that."

Least important, Gorham knows now, is the hype. That's why his teammates' pictures are displayed in the school paper, not his.

"It wouldn't look right," Gorham said, "with my name on the masthead."

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