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High Schools

It's a State Matter for Compton

Centennial and Dominguez seek California boys' basketball championships in two divisions this weekend in Sacramento's Arco Arena.

March 17, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Arron Afflalo has lived a couple of blocks from Compton Centennial since the sixth grade. During his first two years in the neighborhood, however, he knew nothing about the school's basketball program.

All he ever heard about were the basketball teams at crosstown Compton Dominguez.

"As far as I knew, [the Dons] were the top team in the country," Afflalo said. "It was the school I was going to attend."

But four years ago while playing travel ball, Afflalo met Centennial Coach Rod Palmer. The youngster was impressed and convinced he could develop just as quickly under Palmer's tutelage, and do so only five minutes from home.

"That made things even easier," Afflalo said. "It was more than just the wins and the losses. I knew when I went to Centennial I would learn and develop as a player and as a person."

His decision has paid off. In November, Afflalo signed to play for UCLA. On Saturday, Centennial will make its second appearance in a state championship game in three seasons.

The Apaches will meet Oakland Bishop O'Dowd for the Division III title at 2:45 p.m. in Arco Arena in Sacramento. Dominguez will also be in Sacramento this weekend, playing for the Division II state title. It marks the first time the Compton schools have played in state title games in the same season.

The Dons, who will meet Hayward at 8 p.m. Friday, are looking for their sixth state title since 1996.

Palmer, a Dominguez graduate who played at UCLA and UC Irvine, said the citizens of Compton should be proud of their teams' accomplishments.

Combined with the men's state championship Compton College won last weekend, city schools have a chance at three state titles.

"I think it's real healthy," Palmer said. "Everything is positive at this point."

Dominguez Coach Russell Otis said he will keep his team in Sacramento an extra day so it can root for Centennial in the Apaches' bid for their first state title.

"He turned them around," Otis said of Palmer, in his sixth season at Centennial. "He has kids that want to go there now."

Palmer, like Otis and Michael Lynch, the coach of Division V state finalist Los Angeles Price, played for former Dominguez coach Ernie Carr.

"It's kind of nice," said Carr about watching three former players take their teams to the finals. "You hope it meant they were coached by someone who was fairly competent and they took something that has helped them do what they are doing now."

Otis coached a lower-level team at Dominguez before taking over the varsity from Carr in 1987.

Palmer, at his former coach's urging, began his coaching career at Compton High, where he won two league titles and advanced to the Southern Section Division II-AA and Southern California Regional Division II title games in 1998.

A year later, he took over at Centennial, where the team had played in only one section final, losing in Division III-AA to Lakewood Artesia in 1995.

Under Palmer, the Apaches have reached the section finals every season since his first but have lost each game.

They also lost Afflalo at the beginning of the school year. Fearing that his scholarship opportunities would be affected by Centennial's loss of its academic accreditation last summer, he transferred to Price, where he was not eligible to play basketball.

His concerns were alleviated by UCLA officials during Afflalo's official visit in October, so Afflalo returned to Centennial shortly before the start of the season.

With Afflalo in the fold, Palmer believed he had the makings of the best team in Centennial history, only to lose again in a section final, this time to North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, 74-63, in the Division III-AA title game.

"We had to regroup and refocus," Palmer said of the loss. "It's a tribute to the guys because, believe me, it hurt."

When the Apaches defeated Harvard-Westlake, 57-45, in a Southern California Regional semifinal Thursday, Carr, who watched from the stands, immediately phoned Otis with the news.

Otis, whose Dons had just defeated Villa Park in their division's semifinal, seemed more interested in Centennial's game than in figuring out his team's opponent for the regional final.

"I'm more happy for Rod," Otis said. "He's a good guy, a good Christian man."

Otis joked that once the state finals are over, Dominguez and Centennial might just square off in a closed gym.

"Nobody else will be there," he said. "We'll just play to see who is the best."

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