April 14, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Dominique Darius ready to meet expectations for UCLA

Three days into her UCLA career, Dominique Darius has already impressed Cori Close with her athleticism and strength. But as quickly as the coach thinks her newest player is catching on, Darius does something else to remind Close of the reality.

The 5-foot-9 guard should still be in high school.

A week after adding the four-star prospect to their active roster, the No. 11 Bruins are optimistic about Darius’ future in the program, but cautious when it comes to immediate expectations, even if the early enrollee provides immediate relief for a short-handed roster that’s down to seven scholarship players entering Sunday’s game at No. 7 Oregon.

“It’s an impossible expectation,” Close said Wednesday via video news conference. “I’m just going, ‘This is a win-win for you. So just grow every day, give to the team and then we’ll see where we land.’ ”

Darius started practicing with the team over the weekend as the Bruins (5-2) returned from a brief Christmas break. Close would normally never ask a recruit to enroll early and skip her senior season of high school, but with the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling or dramatically reducing many high school sports seasons and pausing NCAA eligibility clocks for all athletes, it seemed like a silver lining to a challenging situation. About a month ago, assistant coach Tony Newnan presented the idea to Darius, who was ahead of her studies enough to be able to graduate early.

“It’s really a credit to her maturity,” Close said.

Darius finished her shortened high school career with a 2020 New Jersey state championship, averaging 15.8 points per game as Blair Academy went 26-5 overall. This season, high school basketball teams in New Jersey aren’t scheduled to begin practicing until Jan. 11.

Adding the Jacksonville, Fla., native is especially important for the Bruins as guard Chantel Horvat will probably miss Sunday’s game due to a lower leg injury that kept her out of UCLA’s 61-49 loss to Stanford on Dec. 21. Darius is a versatile guard who can play either backcourt position, Close said. Having her would give UCLA substitution flexibility for Charisma Osborne and Lindsey Corsaro, who lead the team in minutes per game at 32.7 and 31.9, respectively. The freshman is quick and strong, with long arms, and could help the Bruins press more on defense.

Physically, she has the tools to excel in college, Close said. It’s just a matter of her mind catching up.

“A lot [is] being thrown at her right now,” senior Michaela Onyenwere said. “But you can tell that she has leadership abilities that are very natural to her and she’s a great player. She’s kind of a dog.”

Darius is one of just two freshmen with the Bruins now, joining forward Emily Bessior. The veterans have tried to help the young players adjust to the unique season that prohibits them from normal bonding activities like team meals or casual conversation in the locker room. Instead, teammates make sure to offer Darius a ride to practice. They help her know what to pack for the upcoming trip. They’re only a text away and happy to help.

“When I was a senior in high school, I was not ready to go to college,” said Onyenwere, an AP preseason All-American who leads the Bruins with 16.9 points per game. “So it’s definitely a weird position that she’s in, but we want to make her as comfortable as she can while she’s here.”