Scratching the surface

Wingate mens’ basketball coach Brian Good isn’t shy about how he characterizes recent Metrolina Christian Academy graduate Josh Dominguez, who will join the Bulldogs’ program this fall.

Metrolina Christian guard Josh Dominguez signed a National Letter of Intent with Wingate University this year.

Metrolina Christian guard Josh Dominguez signed a National Letter of Intent with Wingate University this year.

“To be honest with you, I think we got a really big steal,” said Good.

Judging from Dominguez’s resume, it’s hard to paint Good’s optimism as misguided or far-fetched. As a senior, Dominguez, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, scored 23 points per game while adding an average of five rebounds and 2.3 assists. He scored a season-high 40 points against Huntersville SouthLake Christian on Feb. 1 and scored fewer than 20 points just seven times in 30 starts for the Warriors.

But the thing that makes Good’s assertion not only plausible, but also perhaps a bit modest, is the fact that Dominguez may just be scratching his own potential.

Despite being a three-year starter for the Warriors’ varsity basketball team, Dominguez’s version of himself as an  underclassman would be nearly unrecognizable today.

“Freshman year, he was strictly a shooter,” said Warriors coach Michael Williams of Dominguez, who played JV as a freshman. “I went and watched him play a couple of times (the summer after) his freshman year in AAU, and that’s all he did. If he ever touched a ball, it was either a shot or a pass; he never dribbled the ball.”

Granted, Dominguez’s shot was good, but not good enough to make him a dependable weapon for the Warriors’ varsity program, not without the complementary threat of a floor game that would keep defenders honest, said Williams.

“My approach to him was to say, ‘Josh, you’re a shooter. Let’s just get past that. We know you can shoot,’” Williams said. “Now, you’ve got to find a way to get to the rim.’”

For Williams, Dominguez’s willingness to accept that message was the moment he truly began to shine as a player.

“All we did was work on attacking the rim,” Williams said. “We really made that our focus. We knew he could make a set shot and we really wanted him to develop his ability to be quick off the first step and his toughness around to rim to finish with contact.

“He and I spent so many hours at the gym. We have a very special bond. A lot of times it was just him and I working late at night. I’d just challenge him to get to the rim. We did drills with tennis balls, drills where you’d have to explode to get past a defender. I’d be down there with a (blocking) pad, he’d come in full-speed and just jump step and power through the contact.”

The results were evident pretty quickly. As a sophomore, Dominguez’s first season as a starter, he averaged 10.2 points with 97 of his 264 total shots coming from beyond the 3-point line. But his 83 free throws were proof that he was getting more comfortable attacking the rim.

As a junior, his free throw attempts jumped to 130 while his 3-point attempts (out of 280 shots from the floor) dipped to 69. He also bumped his scoring average up to 14.9 points per outing.

As a senior, while emerging as one of the Warriors’ top weapons, he took 101 3-pointers and recorded a career-high 185 free throws.

“I’m definitely more of an aggressive driver (now),” Dominguez said. “I can get to the lane with ease now. I attribute that to my AAU coaches and Coach Williams beating me up in practice, telling me to go to the hole. ‘Go dunk on somebody’ is what he would say.

“He told me, ‘If you want to play the college game, you have to be more dynamic. You have shooters, but they can still drive.’ To be able to develop my driving game, I needed to be able to handle the ball well. When defenders are guarding me, I want them to be able to guard more than just my shooting. That way they never know what I’m going to do; I can pull up or go right by you.”

Good certainly has noticed the improvement.

“I thought (Dominguez) got better (at attacking the rim),” Good said. “I thought he learned how to create a shot a little bit better. I certainly don’t think he’s done yet – I hope. But we’ll continue to work with that and I think we’ll get a chance to get him in our skill development (programs) for the next four years. I think he’ll really get a chance to build on some of his areas.

“The one thing about Josh is he likes to be in the gym and the things we’ve already challenged him on, he’s worked hard at, so I don’t expect him not to continue.”

Dominguez’s transformation wasn’t simply about sharpening his sills, however. Physically, he’s grown from a 6-1 freshman to his current height of 6-4. But there’s the emotional growth Dominguez has experienced, as well.

Taking the ball to the rim with authority is a bit out of character since Dominguez describes himself as shy. He said he always has been. His soft-spoken nature hardly disputes that. It’s why his mom, Valerie Chess, got him started with basketball in the first place, as a way to draw him out of his shell.

“It worked, especially here because, and I’m trying to be humble at the same time, but me being one of the elite players here, I had to take on that leadership role of being vocal and leading by example. I guess that brought me out of being shy.”

It still creeps back to the surface occasionally. Take, for example, last summer. Dominguez began turning heads with his AAU season in May, and continued to do so during the Warriors’ team camps in the early summer. Williams said Division I programs such as Winthrop and USC Upstate began expressing interest in Dominguez.

Later that summer, however, Dominguez lost some of his aggressiveness and began attacking less. Soon, many of the Division I programs moved on to other players.

“We challenged him to step up and get back into attack mode, so to speak,” said Williams. “He rolled right into his senior season and picked right back up.”

And he kept it up, which led to his breakout season.

“The thing about Josh is he’s very, very committed,” Williams said. “Any time the gym was open, he was there. He wouldn’t just go through the motions; he came in at game speed. He put in a lot of long hours and he improved so much. If you saw him from his sophomore year to now, you wouldn’t think it was the same kid.

“He’s really a product of the hard work he’s put in. I never pushed a kid that has gotten so much better like him. He made so much progress.”

The fact that Dominguez received flirtations from Division I schools isn’t lost on Good. For Good, Dominguez represents not only the type of player that has made his program successful – the Bulldogs have gone 75-44 over the last four seasons with two South Atlantic Conference titles – but also what he hopes the Bulldogs will continue to be: a program that can thrive using top-notch local players.

The 2013-14 school year should be a good start as Dominguez will join former Cuthbertson standout Isiah Cureton as Union County products that have the potential to form the cornerstone of Good’s program for the next four
years.

“I thought Josh was one of those guys that kind of made our program in the fact that he was a borderline Division I player, just like some of the guys that just finished up for us,” Good said. “Those have been the guys that have helped us achieve what we’ve done in the last couple of years. He’s going to have a chance to be something special, I think.”

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