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A School for Scandal
Alexander Wolff
February 26, 2001
Take a championship high school team, an NBA-ready 7-footer, a coach accused of molestation, a secretive summer-league operator and a community desperate for a winner, and you've got all the ingredients for...
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February 26, 2001

A School For Scandal

Take a championship high school team, an NBA-ready 7-footer, a coach accused of molestation, a secretive summer-league operator and a community desperate for a winner, and you've got all the ingredients for...

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Still, ballplayers come to Dominguez from points all over California and beyond. They transfer in because the Dons win; the Dons win because, year after year, the finest players transfer in, partly because of the imprimatur of Nike, which plies the school with traveling money, shoes and gear. The Compton schools place at or near the bottom of rankings using almost any criteria. But last season Dominguez finished atop USA Today's final national boys' basketball poll.

Tyson chose the Dons for many of the reasons a high school senior signs with Kentucky or Duke: travel, the exposure of a high-profile program and a coach who could prepare him for the pros.

THE HIGH SCHOOL COACH

Russell Otis wore a sweat suit graced with a familiar swoosh when he appeared in California Superior Court on Dec. 28, as if he were honoring some public appearances clause in his contract as a consultant to Nike. The company must have winced at the occasion: a preliminary hearing on charges that Otis groped and sodomized one of his players last fall.

Otis took over at Dominguez in 1987, fresh out of Southern Utah State, where he had been an All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference swingman during a two-year career. "Russell built his empire," says Scott McClain, who spent four years as an assistant with the Dons during the late 1990s. "He got lucky in having some kids living around Dominguez, and he got it done with them at first." Otis used an astringent manner to prod his team into playing fierce pressure defense, and in his second season the Dons won a CIF Southern Section title. Even so, he could do little to keep other high schools in Southern California from poaching his players.

Then, in the fall of 1993, Dominguez signed a deal to begin wearing Nike. "That changed everything," says former Dons player Tremain Ross. Dominguez upset Oak Hill Academy, a national high school power from Mouth of Wilson, Va., at a holiday tournament in Las Vegas in December '94, and two years later Otis had his own deal with Nike, which supplemented his coaching salary with up to $15,000 a year. Soon he was a regular at Nike's elite summer camp and at Michael Jordan's jamboree in Santa Barbara. Back home, so many parents approached him about finding a place on his team for their boys that Otis put most of them off, referring their calls to school district administrators.

One transfer he did agree to accept, a 17-year-old who lived within the Compton city limits, is now referred to in court records simply as John Doe. He had spent his freshman year at Dominguez High before transferring to another school in Los Angeles County to get a better education. There he began to blossom as a ballplayer, and by his junior season he had become very good. So last summer, after much discussion with his family and assurances from Otis that a spot awaited him on the varsity, he transferred back, in the hope that the Dominguez name would increase his chances of landing a scholarship at a prestigious school.

According to Doe's testimony on Dec. 29 at the preliminary hearing, over the summer he would swing by the coach's town house in Carson to watch TV. Otis would let him drive his car and occasionally give Doe spending money, $5 and $10 at a time. In September, Doe testified, Otis began asking him sexually explicit questions. When they were alone in the coach's car, Otis allegedly asked him if he'd ever had "pom-pom." Otis explained that "pom-pom" was a person "giving another person [oral sex]." The player said no. The coach allegedly brought the subject up again on other occasions, once saying it was "better for a man to do it."

According to Doe, while the two were at the coach's house later that month, Otis retired to his bedroom and eventually summoned Doe to join him. There Doe says he found Otis, aroused, watching a pornographic video. Otis allegedly tried to touch Doe's genitals, but the player brushed the coach's hand away.

About a week later, Doe testified, Otis took him to a mall in Lakewood, gave him $200, and offered him the use of his credit card "if you let me do anything I want." Doe said he turned down the offer of the credit card, but with the cash bought a jacket, a shirt and a CD. The two returned to the coach's home, where Doe says Otis asked if he could perform "pom-pom."

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