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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Reversal of Fortune

High-Scoring Guard Tries to Turn His Life Around at Kilpatrick

February 02, 2001|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MALIBU — Keilon Fortune looks you in the eye and shakes your hand vigorously. Like most people, he's got a story to tell.

As he gets comfortable on a well-worn sofa, he looks like any other teenager, wearing a black jacket, white T-shirt and loose-fitting khakis.

But the hardscrabble details of his life separate him from others his age.

He sleeps on the bottom of a bunk bed, arising every day at 6:45 a.m. He is allowed to make only two phones calls a month, on the average.

He is surrounded by beauty and splendor, his residence nestled in the hills of Malibu, but with razor-wire fences around him that have a way of keeping the outside world at bay.

Fortune is at Camp Kilpatrick, an L.A. County probation camp whose residents have been referred by juvenile court because of crimes ranging from theft, assault, and breaking and entering. Fortune has been detained since July because he was arrested with an unregistered firearm in his car.

Fortune, a former starter for basketball powerhouse Compton Dominguez High, is starting over on and off the court at Kilpatrick, where counselors try to rehabilitate the residents via sports, among other ways.

The situation could be worse for Fortune, who averages a region-best 35.4 points for the Mustangs.

A judge could have placed him in the California Youth Authority, usually reserved for more violent juvenile offenders. In that environment, exercise comes in minutes, not hours. No games, no teams, no unsupervised activity. Nothing. Only time to think about what went wrong.

As it is, Fortune has plenty of time to ponder and plan. He wants to play in the NBA. If that doesn't work out, he wants to be a lawyer, saying with a smile, "I can argue points."

Discussing why he is at Kilpatrick, Fortune becomes somber, even remorseful.

"Maybe this is the best thing for me," he said. "I don't disagree with what the Lord had in store for me. Every day that I'm here, I learn a little more not about basketball, but about life in general."

One of his counselors is basketball Coach Alvin Brown, who also serves as Fortune's probation officer. Brown has witnessed Fortune's transition from quiet and reserved when he first arrived to vocal and assertive.

"He's taken a leadership role here, something a lot of kids really don't like to take," Brown said. "He'll step up in the dorm and tell people, 'Hey, you need to stop talking.' It's not an easy role. But if you get that respect, everybody else will sit back and say, 'You're right, what I'm doing is stupid.' "

Fortune, a 6-foot senior guard, has adopted a similar role on the basketball team.

With his silky-smooth shot, he has become the leader for Kilpatrick (19-1, 5-0 in Alpha League play), which can clinch a tie for its first league title if it beats Pasadena Marshall (12-5, 4-1) on Saturday.

Truth be told, Kilpatrick basketball is not Dominguez basketball. The Dons have won four state Division II championships in five years, including a mythical national title last season, and have 7-foot center Tyson Chandler, a possible lottery pick in the next NBA Draft.

Kilpatrick has a condemned practice gym, plays all its games on the road and has a roster that changes annually as juvenile offenders filter in and out of the one-year program.

Fortune misses the electricity that accompanies Dominguez games but has settled into a routine at Kilpatrick, where basketball has become a priority. He recently used one of his monthly phone calls to ask a newspaper for an update on the Alpha League standings.

Brown, a 6-foot-5, 265-pounder who played power forward at the University of San Francisco, said Fortune's dedication and experience are akin to having a coach on the floor.

"We don't have to use too many timeouts because he knows how to settle everyone down," Brown said. "We'll look at him and he'll say, 'I've got it,' and he'll take control of the game. It's sort of like how Magic Johnson used to take control and got everybody where they needed to be."

Like most high school players, Fortune's emotions aren't always in check. Against Fillmore, he became angry with a referee's call and was benched for most of the first half by Brown. He returned to score 36 points in the second half and apologized to the referee.

"He hasn't behaved like that since then," Brown said.

Fortune's typical on-court demeanor has drawn the eye of opposing coaches, who feel like they've been beaten by nothing less than a selfless player with a sweet outside shot.

"He doesn't trash talk or anything like that," Paraclete Coach Andy Gavel said. "He's so good at this level that he could [trash talk] if he wanted. He's a pretty unselfish player. He gives the ball up on the fastbreak. He doesn't force a lot of things. He gives the ball up a lot of times in their set offense and he doesn't see it come back to him. He's a pretty complete deal."

Kilpatrick athletes don't necessarily enjoy fruitful futures.

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