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Reclaiming His Game

Robertson's early struggles have given way to playoff highlights at Dominguez

March 13, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Indecision no longer fills the thoughts of LaMar Roberson. The hesitation is gone, replaced by confident, crisp play that has sparked the Compton Dominguez boys' basketball team during its postseason run and further bolstered his standing as one of the Southland's top prospects.

He's one of a handful of skilled players for the Dons, who play Cinderella-story Fullerton Sunny Hills in the Southern California Regional Division II championship game today at the Sports Arena, but Roberson has clearly progressed the most since the beginning of the season.

Which for him, wasn't until early January.

Roberson, a 6-foot-8 forward who transferred from Baton Rouge, La., last spring, sat out the first 14 games while waiting for his eligibility to be cleared by the Southern Section.

A victory in his first game was quickly forfeited because section officials ruled he had not been cleared. He then struggled to find his role on a team flush with talent that had developed some continuity without him.

But Roberson has proved during the playoffs that the adjustment period is over. And that has been bad news for Dominguez opponents, who find it difficult enough to defend the Dons without the addition of another athletic post player.

"It took me a while to get in rhythm," Roberson said.

His season spiked at the Southern Section Division II-A final last Saturday, when he scored a season-high 32 points in a 71-58 victory over Inglewood at the Pond. He also contributed 13 rebounds and four assists as the Dons won their ninth section title in 16 years.

In a 75-59 victory Thursday over visiting Villa Park in a regional semifinal, Roberson had another balanced game: 15 points, seven rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots.

"He's starting to do the little things, like better shot selection, which makes him better," Dominguez Coach Russell Otis said.

"It has been a long time coming."

Added Villa Park Coach Kevin Reynolds: "I like [Roberson's] tenacity. It's something all players should have."

Roberson hasn't gone unrecognized by recruiters, although he has not yet signed a letter of intent and has not academically qualified for a scholarship, Otis said.

He's listed as the 109th-best prospect in the country by Rivals.com, a top recruiting information service, and 28th among small forwards. Players ranked higher in Southern California -- Jordan Farmar of Woodland Hills Taft, Josh Shipp of Los Angeles Fairfax, Arron Afflalo of Compton Centennial, Gabe Pruitt of Westchester and Lorenzo Mata of South Gate -- have signed with Pacific 10 Conference schools.

The next Southland player ranked behind Roberson, Irvine Woodbridge center David Burgess at No. 115, has signed with Brigham Young. In fact, only about a dozen of the top 150 prospects have not signed with a Division I program, and some haven't bothered because they are expected to opt for the NBA draft.

Otis, who has coached numerous NCAA Division I players and two currently in the NBA, believes Roberson will get his opportunity.

"He's going to be another one that's on his way," he said.

Roberson was the second-leading scorer for Baton Rouge Christian Life Academy last season and was already considered a major prospect.

But after accidentally starting a kitchen fire last spring that burnt his family's home to the ground, Roberson was left in an uncomfortable situation.

"I didn't have anywhere to live," he said.

Roberson said he had been contemplating a move to the West Coast before the fire. After the tragedy, he decided to take the opportunity to settle with relatives in Compton while his mother, Yvonne, remained behind because of her job.

In order to be eligible this winter, Roberson needed a hardship waiver or proof of a bona fide change of address from his mother, as well as evidence that he was residing with her. When the hardship waiver was denied, Roberson's mother left her job and moved to Southern California to acquire the necessary change of address.

That didn't happen before Roberson made his first appearance Jan. 3 in the Pangos Dream Classic at Pauley Pavilion. Roberson was a key factor in a 66-52 victory over Southwest Atlanta Christian, helping shut down Dwight Howard, a 6-11 center expected to be a lottery pick in the NBA draft.

But it was announced two days later that Roberson was not eligible to play and Dominguez would have to forfeit the victory. Otis, Yvonne Roberson, an attorney and other Dominguez officials personally delivered the change of address documents the next day. Roberson's eligibility was cleared, but the forfeit was not.

Roberson returned Jan. 10 against Long Beach Poly at the California Hoops Challenge at Cal State Dominguez Hills, but was pulled from the game by Otis after shooting a fade-away jump shot on his first attempt. Despite missing two starters, the Jackrabbits won, 64-62, avenging a 37-point loss to the Dons a month earlier. Roberson was held to five points and four rebounds, while Poly's front line of Marcus Lewis and Chris Fields combined for 40 points.

"When he first got back in the system, we did not want to him to play on the perimeter," Otis said. "If he was going to drift, we were going to sit him until he decided to play the way we wanted him to play. Slowly we've expanded the reigns."

And the Dons haven't lost since.

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