Former Rainier High School basketball star Aaron Dotson played two seasons at LSU before transferring to Utah. He'll sit out one season, then be eligible to play for the Utes in 2012-13.
Sunlight burst into a dimly lit hallway when Aaron Dotson opened the door to the Rainier Beach gym.
He walked down a corridor and was greeted by the sound of bouncing balls and the voice of his high-school coach, Mike Bethea. He stopped just short of the basketball court, wearing a sweatshirt he was given at the preseason NIT his freshman year at Louisiana State.
It was several days before the former Vikings standout was scheduled to fly to Salt Lake City to start the next chapter of his life as a transfer at the University of Utah. Dotson seemed happy to be home, but eager to start fresh.
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Over the past few years, the 20-year-old has dealt with knee injuries, the rough-and-tumble SEC and his mother’s battle with cancer. He is ready to move forward.
“Everything is new,” Dotson said. “I’m looking forward to it. Not to forget about the past, because it’s still there, but moving on.”
After winning a state title with Rainier Beach as a junior in 2008, Bethea said Dotson was playing his best basketball the summer before his senior year. But early in his final campaign with the Vikings he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Looking back, Dotson said he should have redshirted his freshman year in Baton Rouge, La., but he started 17 games for the Tigers.
It was a tough season. He was adjusting to life in the South, a new style of play in an unfamiliar conference and his knee just wasn’t ready to push through a Division I season.
“That would have been enough to break anybody,” Bethea said.
As he tried to accept everything that happened as a freshman, more bad news hit when he injured his other knee last summer.
“It’s been a long two years,” Dotson said. “Being so far away didn’t help at all. I don’t regret it at all. I learned a lot from it.”
As he tried to persevere and prepare for his sophomore season at LSU, he received even more troubling news. This time, not long before the Tigers’ first game, he learned his mother, Adrienne, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
He scored 17 points in the season opener, but struggled to prepare for the second game, knowing his mother was undergoing surgery.
“He was just getting into his groove and I didn’t want to mess him up,” Adrienne said. “I had to tell him to stay there and continue to play — I would be OK. It was difficult, but those are the decisions, as a parent, you have to make.”
To help put his mind at ease, Adrienne surprised her son by flying to watch LSU play a December game against Rice in Houston.
“I wanted him to be able to see me in the flesh, because, when he did come home after I had my surgery, he saw me laying around and recovering,” Adrienne said. “I wanted him to see me up and moving around, let him know that I was OK.”
Dotson started 21 games as a sophomore, but the distance was too great. He decided to transfer closer to home. He thought he would end up at Gonzaga. That didn’t work out. An opportunity then presented itself at Utah with new coach Larry Krystkowiak.
“It’s almost like a Christmas gift that he got to get into the Pac-12 with Utah and a new coach,” said Jim Marsh, a former assistant at Utah who coached Dotson when he played for the AAU team Friends of Hoop. “I think, after a year of practice, when he’s eligible, he’ll make some big marks for the Utes.”
After spending some time in Seattle and getting to see his mother every day, Dotson is ready to get acclimated to Krystkowiak’s system. It will help to have good friend Glen Dean in the Utah program. Dean, who graduated from Roosevelt High School in 2008, is a transfer from Eastern Washington.
“I like his size, No. 1, at the wing,” Krystkowiak said of Dotson, who is 6 feet 4. “I think he can play either wing spot. He can guard both of those positions. He’s real athletic and gets out and runs. He shot the ball pretty well. I think, beyond basketball, he’s got real strong character. He’s a great kid.”
Both players will sit out the next season due to NCAA transfer rules.
“I think it will be good for me to just take this year and take some time,” Dotson said.
Adrienne described her son as an “old soul.” He is as unassuming as his game is explosive. His former coaches are excited to see what he does once he gets back on the floor.
“This kid could make some money some day,” Bethea said. “Just seeing him, and knowing what he’s capable of doing, I think we’re going to see the real AD.”
Marsh added, “He’s an absolutely terrific athlete, a good scorer and a hard worker.”
Dotson is looking forward to taking the lessons learned and applying them to his future.
“I knew there was going to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Adrienne, who has finished chemotherapy — cancer-free so far — and is starting radiation. “We made it through. He’s going to be somewhere else, getting another chance. I’m excited about that.”
When Dotson left the gym, he walked back into the light. He stepped into his future.
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org