Hart boys basketball coach Tom Kelly knows his team strength lies in numbers.
It’s certainly hard to argue that.
The Indians’ depth has guided them to a 3-0 start in Foothill League play. They’re the last undefeated team in the league heading into Friday when they’ll travel to West Ranch.
But for all the talk about depth, there’s no denying the impact one player has had on the team.
And that’s senior forward Whitten Dominguez.
“He brings a certain identity to us,” Kelly said. “He brings the toughness; he’s a really, really fiery kid.
“… He’s going to command every team’s best guy. When you play us, it’s not a secret, he’s the guy you have to stop first.”
Dominguez, who’s signed to play at NAIA Biola University, hadn’t played until the team’s win against Eastside on Dec. 28 due to shoulder and Achilles tendon injuries. Last year’s co-Foothill League Player of the Year has resumed his regular high volume of minutes since the Indians’ league-opening win against Golden Valley on Jan. 9.
“I was pretty desperate to get back,” Dominguez said. “I was a little frustrated at first because my endurance wasn’t there. I’m still not fully back in that groove yet. But being back and on the court with my teammates has been great. There’s really no replacement for that.”
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The conditioning is the last part of Dominguez’s game he’s waiting to back in full capacity. He led Hart with 20 points in its win over Valencia last Friday and had 16 points in Tuesday’s win over Canyon.
“He just adds to the unpredictability that we have,” said senior guard Tre Harrill. “It makes my job a lot easier, knowing we have another weapon like that.”
That unpredictability led to nights like the win over Golden Valley. Harrill, Dominguez and Luca Robinson, who led the Indians with 24 points on Tuesday, had shot just 5 of 35 from the field against the Grizzlies. But Caleb Waldeck had 25 points and Hart won decisively, 63-44.
“We’re just super unselfish and I love that vibe,” Dominguez said. “Obviously, the three of us were disappointed we didn’t shoot that well, but it just showed how deep we were.”
This wasn’t the first time Dominguez missed an extended period due to an injury. He missed the entire Foothill League season as a freshman on JV due to a broken thumb. He missed most of last year’s preleague games due to a hip impingement.
“I’m getting pretty used to it, unfortunately,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez played a major role on the sidelines during his absence, though, serving as a quasi-assistant coach.
“That made the transition back pretty smooth,” Dominguez said. “They didn’t need much directing. But If there’s something that you love, you’re going to find a way to contribute any way you can.”
Dominguez has now been able to bring that love back onto the court. While he’s the first guy team’s need to stop on Hart, he’s definitely not the last.
Kelly believes the team is at its best when it can get four players scoring in double figures. The Indians have accomplished that their last two games. Dominguez is sure to be one of those four players on most nights.
“(Dominguez) was a little rusty when he returned, but the guys are adjusting well to having him back in the lineup,” Kelly said. “I think it’s pretty evident to see the impact it’s having.”