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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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EPILOGUE

John Doe is being home-schooled and expects to graduate. But his family says he spends long periods alone and depressed, convinced that he should have somehow stopped what he says happened to him. "I trusted this animal, and my son did too," his mother says of Otis. "He can't play basketball, his dream. He's shattered. I'm very, very angry at the people who are making it seem like it's my son's fault."

Russell Otis is on unpaid leave from the Compton school district as he awaits trial on March 28. If he's convicted on all counts, he faces up to nine years and eight months in prison. McMurray, John Doe's lawyer, has referred another witness to the prosecution, a former church-league player who says that in the mid-1990s, Otis plied him with sports gear, the use of a car and the promise of a chance to play college ball before asking for a sexual favor. "This kid was 21 at the time and had the power to resist him," says McMurray. "Otis used the same term, 'pompom,' with him that he used with my client. That's corroboration in my mind. That's not something somebody would make up."

Nevertheless, much of Compton remains steadfastly behind Otis. At a home game on Jan. 12, the coach received a huge ovation when he walked into the gym just before half-time. But without him on the bench the Dons have already lost four games after going 35-2 a season ago. Otis concedes that even if he is acquitted, the entire episode "will leave somewhat of a cloud."

"It's over at Dominguez," says Vaccaro. "Without Russell, without Pat feeding Russell, Dominguez is just another run-down school."

Yet in the northwest part of town, 10 minutes from Dominguez, there are basketball stirrings. Compton's Centennial High is as run-down as schools come. It's "an island in a sea of gangs," according to a detective in the sheriff's department. Last fall two senior girls filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, charging that they were being deprived of an education. They decried, among other things, a lack of extracurriculars and an overemphasis on boys' sports.

Rod Palmer, a former Dominguez player who took over as coach at Centennial in 1999, nonetheless says he's using Russell Otis and the Dons as a model. He has brought in players from Arizona, Kentucky, even New York City. In both of Palmer's seasons the CIF has found irregularities in the paperwork of some of those transfers and forced the Apaches to forfeit victories. After the CIF finished its latest probe, in January, Centennial's most recent star transfer, 6'11" Tony Key, returned with his mother to their home in Russellville, Ky.

But as long as young ballplayers are willing to cross the state or cross the country to risk their lives crossing the street, Compton is likely to remain the Hub City—raw prospects coming in, finished product going out—regardless of whether the Dominguez dynasty is over. For evidence, you need look no further than this detail: This season, for the first time, the Centennial Apaches are wearing Adidas.

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