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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT | FINAL FOUR

Straight off the Compton farm

Afflalo grew up in a rural part of the city most people don't know exists, but the Bruins' star wouldn't have it any other way.

March 30, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Turn the corner onto West Tichenor Street from Wilmington Avenue, no more than a mile from the 91 Freeway in Compton, and here is what you see: the back end of an Arabian horse trotting up the street.

Here is what you hear: roosters crowing, chickens clucking.

Across the street from the well-tended and carefully rehabilitated home of Danny and Arron Afflalo lives Eddie Stovall.

In Stovall's driveway is a horse trailer, in his backyard three horses. "Red Cloud, Cheyenne and Lightning," he says. "There are cows living in this neighborhood. Goats and llamas ..."

This is the neighborhood where Arron Afflalo, a UCLA All-American basketball player, spent much of the last eight years. He may have learned the game on Compton playgrounds, but he did strength exercises while dodging farm animals on Tichenor Street with his best friend Michael Pagan.

"We'd be doing squats up and down the road and horses would chase us," Pagan says. "I'd sleep over and the roosters would wake us up. In Compton.

"I'd look at Arron and say, 'Can you believe this?' "

From the time he was 13, this is where Afflalo spent many days and nights.

"It has a lot of space," he says. "It's called Richland Farms ... and I know my dad loves the place."

There are no sidewalks, with the area designed as an agricultural haven where city-dwellers could have space. Homes are on large lots, some of about an acre.

Afflalo's father, Danny, moved to Richland Farms in 1999 after he and his wife, Yvette Merritt, had separated. Arron has always moved effortlessly around Compton and Carson, happy in homes with his mother, Gwen Washington, with Danny and Yvette, with brothers and sisters.

When Danny stumbled upon a small "For Sale" sign on Tichenor Street eight years ago, he had no idea that the little corner was, as he said, "Country in the city."

Pagan remembers the first day he and Arron checked out the new neighborhood.

"It was crazy," Pagan recalls. "You heard all the chickens. It was weird, but Arron's dad liked it. Compton has the violence and the rough sections, but here we were, people raising their horses, they had their little farms. I said to Arron, 'This is not in the projects. It can't be. Hear those roosters crowing?' "

Afflalo didn't take to riding horses or milking cows, but he appreciated the work his father put into their home and three others that his father now rents out.

Ruel Mills lives in one of those homes, a cottage painted in bright colors with a wooden deck on the front, an alert Akita on guard, a fire pit in the yard and no sign of a basket.

There's no basket at the Afflalo home, either. Arron played at the Centennial High gym, at Victoria Park, at the YMCA. Danny made one of the rooms in their rehabbed home a weight room.

"I like living here," Mills says, "because it doesn't feel like the city. It feels like I'm away from the world here. I think Arron could learn the other things here. He already had the basketball."

Pagan, who played at Verbum Dei High and is now an actor, said he and Arron did weight work in the house and aerobic work on the street.

"It was fragrant," Pagan says.

Adds Afflalo: "We did have to watch where we walked."

Victor Martin, who also grew up in Compton and who coached Afflalo on youth teams, says Richland Farms "reminds me of farmhouses in the middle of Kentucky when I grew up there.

"I think Arron was a little skeptical when his dad moved there, but he knew his dad was loving it."

More than the animals or open spaces, what Afflalo appreciates about Richland Farms is the opportunity it gave for his dad to do something he loved.

"Like I love basketball, my dad loves working on houses," Afflalo says. "When he first bought the property it was completely run down. It's been six years in the making and now every one of the houses has his personal touch.

"So I didn't need a basket at the house. I had a basket at my mom's house, there was a basket down the street, there was a basket at school, there was a basket in Carson where my stepsisters played. Compton's not that big. What we have in Richland Farms is a little space."

Stovall belongs to the West Coast Cowboy and Cowgirl Assn. He and his horses perform in parades. He arrived in Richland Farms about the same time as Danny and Arron.

"I think everybody here is proud of Arron," Stovall says, "but not just because of basketball. Arron was a good student. He didn't hang in the streets. He had nice friends and he was respectful. But I didn't ever see him ride a horse."

Afflalo has not been without animals, though. Danny keeps a sweet-faced Rottweiler mix named Rasta in the yard. Danny's family is from Jamaica and that's how Rasta got her name. When Arron has a place of his own, he will take Rasta with him.

"She's my dog," Arron said.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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