Bruin never wavered with goal

Arron Afflalo avoided potential pitfalls, staying focused on basketball.

By wire services
Published April 2, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS - The streets were not kind, nor were the playgrounds. Arron Afflalo said gangs were ever-present during his childhood.

First came temptations in Inglewood, where he lived with his mom. When he moved in with his father in Compton about the age of 10, the scenery changed, but the potential for life-crippling pitfalls did not.

Afflalo said some of his friends chose gangs, but he never wavered in his passion.

"I loved basketball," said Afflalo, UCLA's standout sophomore guard. "I was taught right from wrong. It just sunk in with me."

Afflalo is UCLA's steely-eyed defender, whose compassion comes out only after the final horn blows. They are traits he inherited from his father, Ben, and honed while surviving in a tough environment, but with a watchful, loving family.

He is an aggressive, fierce competitor on the court, a tireless worker. Yet, he is a humble, up front, and conscientious young man at game's end.

"It definitely wasn't a (good) area I grew up in," Afflalo said. "It definitely was gang-infested.

"I just played basketball a lot, and had good parenting. I had good people around me."

Afflalo's love for basketball goes back to his toddler years, when his favorite toy was a ball. He watched his father play in a summer men's leagues, and said his father played with the same intensity and aggressiveness.

In fact, Arron and Ben used the same "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" analogy to describe one another.

By the time Arron was in 11 or 12 years old, "I was beating him," he said. However, in typical Afflalo fashion, he quickly pointed out his dad was slowed by "knee operations and everything."

"He's a little more patient than I am," Ben said. "He's a compassionate person - he's like me in that way - without being weak."

Afflalo spent the first part of his childhood living with his mother, Gwendolyn Washington. Even during that time Ben would often drop off and pick up Arron from school. Then Arron moved in with his dad.

Ben was transferred from his downtown Los Angeles job site to Van Nuys. It meant lengthy commutes, and schedule changes for everyone involved in raising, and keeping a watchful eye on Arron.

"They wanted me to change right away, and I couldn't do that," Ben said. "It took about two weeks for us to work out the schedule, but eventually I did it for about a year."

Afflalo, 20, first made his mark at UCLA last season as a defender. It was a role he first clung to as a high school freshman. Afflalo was told by the coaching staff he could earn playing time by playing great defense.

As Afflalo does with anything, he went all out, and excelled. When his "soft" body turned into chiseled muscle, his offensive game took off. But he never forgot the hard work he put forth on defense.

By the conclusion of Afflalo's senior season, he was a McDonald's All-American, and averaged 23 points and led Centennial to its first Division III state title.

"The total package," UCLA coach Ben Howland said in describing Afflalo, who is UCLA's leading scorer (16.2).