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A big crossover move Basketball: Emerging from the obscurity of a Jewish, all-boys school, Tamir Goodman has drawn attention and respect for his game.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's happened to many, even before they took center court. And the abuse from the crowd, jammed three deep outside the chain-link fence, can happen for simple stuff: Maybe they didn't like your gear. The lines in your haircut. Maybe even the way you walked.

It's life at "the Dome," Baltimore's hot spot for basketball. Smack dab in "the 'hood" on Baltimore's east side. A place where only the strong -- and thick-skinned -- survive.

And that's where the legendary court figured to claim another victim last summer when this lanky, pale white kid from Pikesville, an Orthodox Jew -- complete with yarmulke pinned to his hair, mind you -- came to play. They called him chump. He was an obvious target in a sea of African-American faces. "Hey, ** it's Howdy Doody," they chanted as he entered the fence. The sometimes-comical, often-cruel taunts continued through the layup line.

So what went through this kid's mind at the time?

"I couldn't wait to show them my stuff," he recalled last week, breaking into a wide, confident grin. "Then I got on the court and I shook somebody and they were going, 'Oh, man -- did you see that?'

"By the end of the game, they were asking me, 'When you playing next?' "

Meet Tamir Goodman, a high school basketball player you probably don't know. He's a 6-foot-3, 165-pound junior at an all-boys school, Talmudical Academy, that few outside the Jewish community have heard of.

But the colleges know him, with Maryland, Kentucky and North Carolina among those keeping tabs. The local players know him, often showing up at Talmudical games because they know Goodman will put on a show with his nasty crossover dribble. And his numbers are pretty impressive, 32.5 points, 8.0 assists and 7.7 rebounds through his first eight games.

Last week, a local basketball observer, Paul Baker, got on the radio and went as far as comparing Goodman to Pete Maravich and Larry Bird -- a bit much for a kid playing just his second year of organized basketball.

Which leaves the questions: Is Tamir Goodman the real deal? Is he really JJ (the Jewish Jordan, one of the nicknames he has been called)?

Or is Tamir Goodman simply yet another great white hope?

"He's only a junior, so comparing him to Maravich and others is a long, long way," said Tony Jordan, coach at Gilman -- whom Goodman dropped 29 points on recently. "But he's making a name for himself. He's real intense. He's got a bright future.

"He's not just hype."

Showing his skills

Six minutes into his game against Mount St. Joseph, and Goodman is already facing his third defender.

That's because Goodman, working out of an isolation offense that clears one side of the floor for him, has easily burned the first two for easy scores.

A year ago, Goodman averaged 27.0 points, 7.3 assists and 7.1 rebounds, led his team to a 28-3 record -- and didn't register a blip on the basketball radar.

"All I kept hearing was: Who did he play?" said Talmudical basketball coach Harold Katz, whose team last season played mostly smaller, unheralded private and Jewish schools. "So I changed the schedule to show everyone that his skills translate."

(Talmudical next plays Tuesday, against Severn in a tournament at Howard High.)

The Talmudical kids play with a lot of heart, but, let's face it, they aren't the most talented bunch outside of Goodman and hard-nosed center Shlomo Tajerstein.

And yet here it is, the fourth quarter, and Talmudical is right there with then-19th-ranked Mount St. Joseph. And Goodman is the best player on the court, scoring on baseline jumpers, up-and-under post moves, three-point shots a good four steps behind the arc. Talmudical loses the tight game, 61-58, and Goodman posts some pretty gaudy numbers -- 41 points, including scoring 24 of his team's 27 in the fourth quarter.

"Yeah, he's flashy," said Towson Catholic junior guard Keith Jenifer who, along with some of his teammates, have come out to Mount St. Joseph to see Goodman. "The first time I saw him, I didn't think he could play because of that thing on his head. It took me five minutes. He can shoot, pass, jump -- he can play."

After the game, Goodman exchanges greetings with Jenifer and some of the other players. Later, he gushes.

"You can't imagine the feeling I get," he said, "to see these superstars in the stands coming to see me play."

Katz said he knew it would come to this, having seen the star quality in the then-8-year-old Goodman years ago.

"His brother was on the team, and at practice [Goodman] would beg me to play," Katz said. "At the time, he was 4 foot 2. And he was already better than most of my players."

An early influence was Gerard Garlic, former star at Goucher College and now an assistant women's coach at Morgan. By the age of 12, Goodman was attending a basketball camp at Towson State and running with the "NBA" division -- the highest league at the camp, consisting of 17- and 18-year-olds. Goodman held his own, and was given the camp's Most Improved Player Award by former NBA player Adrian Dantley.

"It was at that camp, with the older guys, where everybody was doing all the flashiness," Goodman said, "that's where it started, and now it's just a reaction."

And the reaction from the Jewish community to one of its own has been overwhelming. Since Goodman began playing at Talmudical last season, attendance has increased to close to 300 a game, which is up from the five or six who came before his arrival. They sit mostly on a stage, because the school's home gym has no bleachers.

With his growing reputation, yarmulke-wearing crowds have become the norm at road games as well. After Goodman, in the midst of a crossover dribble, was called for carrying the ball during the recent Gilman game, one Jewish man turned to no one in particular and said, "Hey, they let Michael Jordan do it."

Goodman realizes he's under a microscope.

"With the following, it just triples the pressure," Goodman said. "I feel there's a responsibility I have that no one else has. Being the first Orthodox Jew basketball star out of the Baltimore community, it's really hard sometimes."

Uncertain future

As good as Goodman is, his religion could have an effect on his basketball future. Being an Orthodox Jew restricts him now from playing from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.

"For a person who makes sacrifices at an early age for what they love to do because of their religion, I really respect that," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "From a coaching standpoint, you need guys that play every day and that can play in all the games. It's not fair to the other players that work hard every day that another guy doesn't play one game and now he's starting another.

"That could develop into a touchy situation."

When the question is posed to Goodman about how his observance could affect his future as a college basketball player, he said: "I will never do anything to violate the laws of the Sabbath."

He then added he would welcome the opportunity to play major Division I basketball.

"I honestly think the main thing that makes me good is God-given talent and to be a role model for the Jewish community. That really drives me," Goodman said. "There are times when I ask, 'Why me?' I think God made me a basketball player. And I'm going to do whatever it takes to continue being his messenger."

Making believers

Goodman was on his way to a Maryland game -- with seats right behind the Terps bench -- when during the pre-game show the announcer began raving about him.

"He looked at me surprised and said, 'Hey, they're talking about me,' " recalled Katz. "He feels uncomfortable with all this attention."

But Goodman might as well get used to it. During the summer at the Dome, he was paid the ultimate compliment when a man, claiming to be an intermediary for a Baltimore public school power, offered Goodman a spot on the team.

"He told me, 'You come down here, we got your tuition,' " Goodman said, " 'and you'll get all the girls.' "

On the road, Goodman still gets harassed by those unfamiliar with his game, and he continues to make believers out of doubters.

"It's irrelevant now," Goodman said. "I just go out there and do my stuff."

After doing his stuff in a road game at the Park School recently, something odd happened: Opposing fans asked Goodman for his autograph.

"To me, that was something else," Goodman said. "That motivates me. That told me I'm getting there, I'm getting there."

To many, he has already arrived.

Pub Date: 12/26/98

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