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Odessa's Conwell Is Learning to Ride Herd on Her School Work

May 13, 1985|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | Times Staff Writer

ODESSA, Tex. — The Dos Amigos Restaurant and Bar is exactly the kind of place you'd expect to find on the outskirts of this West Texas city.

A horse stable converted to a restaurant carries a hand-painted sign out front that reads: "No Biker Attire. No Unattended Children." The marquee on the roof advertises bull-riding every other Sunday.

We're talking live bulls, not mechanical ones.

Inside, the sandwich counter is an old hitching post, the ceiling is adorned with rusty license plates, and the walls display portraits of John Wayne and Willie Nelson.

You sense that The Duke could ride in at any moment, tie up his horse and pop in for some fajitas and a couple of cold ones.

Somehow Doreatha Conwell, one of the nation's best female high school basketball players last year, a product of Watts and a graduate of Locke High School, doesn't seem to fit in at Dos Amigos, amid the cowboys and the Texas drawls.

But Conwell is here, enjoying lunch, reflecting on a very successful basketball season at Odessa College--one in which she led the Wranglers to a 37-1 record and a second-place finish in the National Junior College Athletic Assn. tournament.

It's a nice city and the facilities at Odessa College are excellent. The Sports Center here is just two years old and features a clean, 1,800-seat basketball arena and a new weight room.

But it's not the L.A. Sports Arena and it's not USC. That's where Conwell was supposed to be.

Conwell made a verbal commitment to attend USC last spring, but her final grade-point average at Locke, 1.9, was well below USC's 2.5 minimum, and she failed to gain entrance into the school.

So, she wound up at Odessa, where the only admission requirement is a high school diploma, where she was able to accept a full, two-year scholarship, where she will be able to earn an Associate of Arts degree so she can move on to a four-year college, and where they play a good brand of basketball.

The Wranglers, with an imposing front line of Conwell and Sharon Blair, were the top-ranked NJCAA team all season and went undefeated until the national tournament final, which they lost to Connors College of Oklahoma, 73-71, in Senatobia, Miss., last March.

One reason Conwell picked Odessa was because she thought the junior college competition there would be better than it is in Southern California.

Joan Bonvicini, coach at Cal State Long Beach, said Odessa was good enough to be ranked among the nation's top 20 Division I teams.

Except that Odessa College is far from the big time.

"I figure the only thing I'm missing, as far as being in Division I, is the prestige, the publicity and being at home," said Conwell, a 6-foot 3-inch, 175-pound power forward. "But I'm still gaining the same experience and knowledge away from home. There's no other place I'd rather be right now."

There is no place better for Conwell right now. Not only is she improving her skills on the basketball court (she averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocked shots a game this year), she is improving her performance in the classroom.

Conwell's first-semester grade-point average was 2.94, and she's projecting at least a 2.7 for this spring. It appears that, after summer school and another year at Odessa, she'll be able to earn an A.A. degree and transfer to a four-year school.

It's anyone's guess as to where she'll go.

USC Coach Linda Sharp, who called Conwell the best junior college player in the nation, thinks there's a strong chance Conwell will still make it to USC.

Conwell isn't so sure.

"I'm kind of open right now," the 18-year old said. "I really don't know if I'll be going to USC or playing out west. I don't know where I'm going to go. What I do know is that I'll pick the place that will be best for my future."

What's most important is that Conwell will be able to pick a place. Since coming to Odessa, she has learned that hitting the books is just as important as hitting the backboards--that you can't make the team unless you make the grades.

And to make the grades, you must make it to class.

That was Conwell's biggest problem at Locke High. She showed up for all the basketball games and twice was named Player of the Year in California, but she didn't attend class enough to get good grades.

Conwell has the intellect. Her grades in junior high were good enough to place her in the academically enriched program at Locke, and she also was chosen to participate in a special bio-medical science program, which met on Saturdays.

But basketball back then seemed a lot more exciting than osmosis. The year before Conwell entered the 10th grade, Locke won the state championship, and Conwell saw an excellent chance to replace graduating star Cynthia Cooper at the center position.

She worked hard in the gym and became a starter in her sophomore year, but her success on the court came at a high price.

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