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Dominguez Doesn't Miss Step Without Otis

High school basketball: While court case keeps coach away, Dons race to 68-58 victory in opener.

November 30, 2000|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FRESNO — Players on the Compton Dominguez boys' basketball team sat quietly in the bleachers before their opener Wednesday night in the Buchanan-Clovis West tournament.

If the Dons were thinking about their missing coach, Russell Otis, as they watched the completion of another game, it did not show.

Neither was it evident as they lined up and vigorously woofed a chant before taking the court for warmups.

"We're ready to go," junior forward Samir Hernandez said as the Dons began jogging onto the floor. "There are no distractions. It's game-time, baby."

With 7-foot senior center Tyson Chandler leading the way, Dominguez looked focused during its 68-58 victory over Hanford in the first round of a 24-team tournament that also features powerful Clovis West, Inglewood, Upland and Chino Hills Ayala.

"We were a little jittery," said Chandler, who scored 15 points. "It was only our first game and it's going to take us a little time to adapt to each other."

But can the Dons, who finished last season ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, maintain their concentration as Otis' legal situation unfolds?

Otis, 38, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges he sexually molested a player. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 12.

The plea by Otis, who has guided the Dons to four of the last five state Division II titles, came more than three weeks after he was arrested on allegations that he had sexual contact with a 17-year-old senior who was expected to play on this year's team. Otis faces felony counts of sodomy by use of force and oral copulation, and a charge of misdemeanor child molestation.

If convicted on all counts, Otis could go to state prison for more than nine years.

The accusing player, a 17-year-old senior, transferred to Dominguez this fall. The player transferred after Otis' arrest.

After Tuesday's hearing, Otis apologized to his players for being unable to attend Wednesday night's game. Otis, who is free in $100,000 bail and on unpaid leave from his position as a health and physical education teacher at Dominguez, is likely to miss most and perhaps all of the season.

"Sorry to my team that I can't be with them," he said.

Steve Singleton, Dominguez's interim coach head coach, would not comment on Otis' situation or its impact on the players other than to say, "They're focused. They're ready to play."

Michael Nunez, chief of police for the Compton Unified School District, said players have been instructed only to answer questions about basketball. If asked about the Otis matter, Nunez said they have been told to refer the inquiries to him.

Though there was no taunting by Hanford players or members of the standing-room only crowd Wednesday night, Nunez said Dominguez players have been prepped for potential abuse by fans and opponents.

"There's always a possibility that you are going to have people who will try to use the situation to make off-color remarks so the kids lose focus on the game," said Nunez, who has traveled with the team as a district representative for four years. "The kids have been spoken to about that."

Chandler won the opening tip and dunked on an alley-oop pass from Darius Sanders on the first possession.

The Dons led, 19-11, at the end of the first quarter and 35-23 at halftime.

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