SAN DIEGO — Gylan Dottin sat in the University of San Diego Sports Center stands before a recent practice, surveying the court. It's an unusual view for some basketball players, but a familiar one for the USD junior.
It's the spot Dottin occupied during games last season, when he sat out while trying to get his game back in order.
"It's very hard sitting out--you don't realize it until the first game comes along, because you've been participating in practice and conditioning," Dottin said. "All of a sudden your uniform is not hanging up in the locker room.
"But it was a good learning experience. I had a year to get myself back together, view the game from a fan's point of view. Up here you can relate to what the coach is talking about. In a game you can't always see it. You learn from other people's mistakes up here."
Stepping back for a year appears to have been a step forward for Dottin, who has emerged as the Toreros' most consistent all-around player as they open West Coast Conference play tonight at home against Santa Clara.
Dottin, playing small forward after spending two seasons at guard, leads the team in rebounding (6.7 average), shooting percentage (.524) and steals (17), is second in scoring at 12 points a game and is the Toreros' best defender.
"Some people don't do well redshirting, and some people it doesn't help at all," USD Coach Hank Egan said. "For Gylan it worked out the way it was supposed to work out. It benefited him on and off the court."
While some players chafe in the redshirt role, Dottin viewed it as a year to play ball without pressure, and get an extra year of college, to boot. NCAA athletes have five years in which to complete four seasons of eligibility.
"Once the (sophomore) season ended, I didn't have much confidence," Dottin said. "I approached the coaches that I was thinking about redshirting. When Mike Brown (transferred from Mesa College in Arizona) that opened the door for me to redshirt.
"It gave me a year to get older, physically and mentally. I just went out and had fun in practice, made (the starters) work hard. It was like a pickup game. I had fun for a year."
Dottin, a star at Saddleback High in Santa Ana, came in with one of USD's best recruiting classes, joining Kelvin Woods, Wayman Strickland and Carlos Carrillo. Dottin was the standout as a freshman, twice scoring 23 points, averaging 12 a game and earning WCC co-freshman of the year honors.
But as a sophomore Dottin ran into a double whammy--he broke his nose in a practice midway through the season, missing six conference games. And in his absence, Pat Holbert stepped in and became one of the WCC's scoring leaders. Dottin knew he wasn't going to get his job back. His scoring average dropped to 8.6, his rebounds down more than one a game from his freshman season.
"When the injury hit, that's when I started going downhill," Dottin said. "I knew I was not gonna come back and take the spot from Pat. I'm not bitter about anything my sophomore year. After the injury I felt out of it, physically and mentally. And basketball is a mental sport."
Dottin rediscovered his confidence. He also apparently found his niche as a forward who can operate inside yet still leads the break. And the move from guard to forward has taken advantage of his rebounding and defensive skills, though he is often at a size disadvantage at 6 feet 5.
"It took us three years to figure out he's a forward," Egan said half-jokingly after a recent game. "He's a slasher. He has quickness, a good feel for the game, he's good taking the ball to the hole, he's good handling the ball. And he's good defensively--he positions himself well and he sorts things out quickly. The rebounding we knew was there; along with his athletic ability and jumping, he has great quickness to the ball. He can get there in a hurry."
When given this thumbnail evaluation, Dottin laughs. "I'm glad he has it figured out," he said. "I'll play wherever he wants me to play. I just like to play. I really don't have a preference. I don't know exactly what I am. I'm at that in-between height, which even makes it harder for me and whoever's coaching.
"Growing up I was kind of short so I played point (guard). Then in high school I shot up and they put me inside. Throughout my life I've had a chance to experience just about every position."
His verdict? "I'm a forward who can handle the ball."
Dottin's defensive ability helped him fit in Egan's scheme immediately. "Defense has never been a problem for me. I feel comfortable playing it," Dottin said. "I've got a long wingspan and I move rather well for my size. I remember when I was a freshman (assistant Coach Randy Bennett) was just starting and the first thing he said to me was, 'Hope you're ready to play some defense.' Not, 'How you doing' or 'Hi, I'm Coach Bennett,' but 'Hope you're ready to play some defense.' "