Sometime before every game, and at different times during it, UCLA guard Arron Afflalo looks to the stands and finds his father.
"We basically make eye contact," said Benjamin "Danny" Afflalo. "Sometimes he may have questions in his eyes. Sometimes I may do a little signal."
They are about as close as a father and son can get, after living together from the time Arron was 13 until he went to UCLA, just the two of them, in one of the four houses Danny Afflalo owns on a parcel in a little-known part of Compton where the lots are large and the neighborhood is still zoned for horses.
"They have a real connection, a special bond," said Coach Ben Howland, who remembers walking into the UCLA locker room during warm-ups before the Michigan game in December and finding Arron inside.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
College basketball: An article in Thursday's Sports section on UCLA guard Arron Afflalo referred to his stepsister, Paris. She is his half sister.
"He's on the phone, and I'm, 'What are you doing in here? We're in warm-ups,' " Howland said. "He said, 'My dad, he's sick, he's not here.' I said, 'Don't worry, he's fine, we'll call him. You go back out there and warm up.' "
Danny Afflalo had only a stomach virus. But that's Arron, the responsible one, whether it's checking on his father, expecting to take the last shot for the Bruins, or going to a school function this week for his 8 1/2 -year-old step-sister, Paris, after she won awards in math and reading at Purche Avenue Elementary in Gardena.
"Oh my goodness, he spoils her to death," said Gwendolyn Washington, Arron's mother, who kept her son at home with her until he moved in with his father around the time Paris was born, then ended up staying. "He loves to take her shopping, to her favorite store, Build-a-Bear," Washington said.
When Howland was building this bear of a Bruin team, he could hardly have found a better person to build it around. It's as if Afflalo were made for it -- he was born at UCLA Medical Center -- and when Jordan Farmar jumped to the NBA after the Bruins reached the NCAA title game last spring, Afflalo decided to return for his junior season to try to improve his draft status and see if UCLA could take one more step.
The 6-foot-5 guard has become the fifth-ranked Bruins' centerpiece, not only their leading scorer at 17.1 points a game, but their best defender as well, and this week he was included on the midseason top-30 candidates for the John R. Wooden Award.
"My whole thing is to try to be a complete player, to try to be the best two-guard, the best defender, the best slasher, the best post guy, just try to be able to do it all," Afflalo said. "I know it takes time, a lot of maturity, and a lot of practice."
Much was made of Afflalo being upset he hadn't taken the last shot in then No.-1 ranked UCLA's two-point loss to Oregon, the team the Bruins face in Pauley Pavilion tonight. But it was about as far from a Keyshawn Johnson "Just Give Me the Damn Ball" demand as it could be.
"The thing about Arron, he's not really someone who has to get the ball every single time. He lets the game come to him," point guard Darren Collison said.
That's a form of modesty that can be rare.
"He knows his impact and knows people feed off him and doesn't feel the need to stick out his chest and say, 'I'm the man,' " his father said.
But when the game, or even the season, hangs in the balance, Afflalo feels a need to take that shot.
"It's more that he thinks he can make the shot or feels he wants to will himself to do it," assistant coach Donny Daniels said. "He wants to take responsibility.
"He takes the game very seriously, and he takes responsibility very personally."
Afflalo -- who got the shot and made the game winner one week later against USC -- said that quality comes from his father.
"I've got great parents. My dad is the best dad in the world. I've learned a lot from him," he said.
"He was on his own early in life. I think those experiences have transferred to the person I am, whether it's basketball or life in general. He had a rough childhood. He's very smart. My mom's very smart, too. I don't want to discredit her. But I can tell, the way I am, the way I think, my personality, definitely resembles him.
"Knowing how I am, I can tell how he was. I'm just the mirror image of him. I just happen to love basketball a lot."
Arron's parents never married and separated when he was 3, but they have vivid memories of a toddler and his basketballs.
"From the time he was 1, that was all he loved," his mother said. "I couldn't go to the grocery or anywhere. I'd try to avoid the aisles with balls. Arron had boxes and boxes full of balls by the time he was 2 or 3. And he was a Laker fan. I could come home and turn on the Laker game and go cook dinner. He'd watch the game and knew them all. His favorite was always Byron Scott."
Scott -- an Inglewood native who played at the nearby Forum -- couldn't have been a more perfect idol for a boy who spent much of his childhood living in Inglewood. It's why Afflalo still wears No. 4.