If you happen to look away, look askew, if your gaze casts doubt and disapproval, Dominic Artis knows why. He accepts it. He can change his outlook, his mindset, his reactions, his scenery. But there’s one thing he can’t change: The past.
“At first, it did bother me, with people, (when) that was the only thing that they had in mind,” UTEP’s junior point guard said. “I would see the eyes.
“But people who really read the history (of what happened) and understand it, I don’t see (the look) as much. I accept it. It’s not like I’m running from it. I’ve learned from it, most definitely. And I’ve used it as fuel on the court. Continue to do what’s right and know that there’s not just basketball; it’s (about) who you are as a person as well.”
The person has a story to tell, much of it instructive, not all of it sunshine. Top 100 recruit. Helped steer Oregon to 28 wins as a freshman. Suspended as a sophomore for selling team-issued shoes. Kicked out of the Ducks’ program a few months later after being accused, along with two teammates, of sexual assault. Went to junior college to straighten out his academics and equilibrium. One prominent Big East program offered a hoops lifeline, then retracted it, fearing campus backlash.
So, yeah. He knows.
“With the Internet now, you really have to (own it),” said Artis, whose Miners take on Southern Illinois at the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic at 3:30 p.m. ET Friday on ASN. “You can’t run from anything. Anyone can search your name and find out things about you that you might not even know. So you’ve got to own up to things and you can’t let perceptions change how you feel about yourself. Which is something that I didn’t know how to (deal with) before that I was kind of forced to do now.”
He’s 22, wiser for the failings, stronger for the humility, the cloak of invincibility replaced by a realization of accountability.
“I didn’t have a view outside of basketball,” Artis said. “I know it sounds cliché, but I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a man, what it meant to live up to your word … I was actually just having a conversation with my uncle (this week), we were talking about just (the) mindset of how basketball is going to overrule everything. I had that mindset and I didn’t really focus on myself as a person. That’s the biggest difference between me then and me now.”
Now he’s embracing a second chance with one hand and the reins of coach Tim Floyd’s offense with the other. Through the first three games, the 6-foot-3 Artis is averaging 15.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 8.7 assists (tops in Conference USA), all while toting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.2-to-1.
“I’m coming along; still have a lot to do,” Artis said. “I’m still trying to figure out a way to get rid of those two-to-three turnovers that I still get a game, really help us get more possessions. I know two possessions may not seem like a lot, but they can determine the game … there are still a lot of things I need to work on, especially the free throws.”
So far: 13 makes, six misses, and funny how the latter sticks. You probably won’t dig playing the point for a Tim Floyd team if you don’t dig the details, pick the nits.
“With Coach Floyd, he’s big on honesty,” Artis said. “And that means on and off the court. That’s why I try to comply. And he tells me to always be vocal and handle myself off the court, which I’ve done very well so far. I love the way he coaches. He’s real. He’ll never say anything behind your back or through the woodwork. I really like his style.
“It’s moreso just wanting to do right by him. That’s really what it is … I’m grateful every day as I go about my day and go about my business. I think what (Floyd) did for me — not only me, but my family — as you said, it provided us with a second chance. I’m more than grateful for that.”
A coveted recruit out of Findlay Prep in Nevada — where future No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett was a teammate — Artis took off in Eugene, averaging 8.5 points per contest as a freshman while the Ducks reached the Sweet 16.
As a sophomore, though, things went from pear-shaped to off the rails entirely. The shoe-selling garnered a nine-game suspension during the 2013-’14 season. The next spring, Artis and two teammates had sexual assault allegations levied against them; while no charges were filed, the incident drew national headlines and led to his dismissal from the program.
A stint at Diablo Valley College followed, along with the baggage. St. John’s had expressed an interest and a possible offer, only to reportedly pull it back after officials feared a public backlash to Artis’ past transgressions.
“It was definitely a frustrating process,” the Miners guard recalled. “Very frustrating, to say the least, for me and my family.”
Enter Floyd, who conducted his own internal investigation into Dominic’s background, vetting friends, peers, and former teammates. He pressed on.
“And that’s what really makes me cherish where I’m at now,” Artis said. “Just to think back and to think that I wasn’t able to get in to places due to my past history, due to my past decisions. It makes me just really cherish where I’m at right now, and just soak in every minute of the day.”
He still talks to former friends and teammates up in Oregon. He’s even conversed with Altman, who promised pointers as to how best to navigate the quirks of Floyd’s universe.
“I call him every once in a while, and actually Floyd and Altman have a relationship,” Artis said. “Altman said, ‘If there’s anything you need to understand with Floyd, give me a call.’”
They’re in this together, coach and floor general, Butch and Sundance. Floyd’s first five UTEP teams have been good — averaging nearly 21 wins per season — but just not quite good enough, having yet to reach the NCAA Tournament. After losing leading scorer Vince Hunter to the pros, the Miners offered a big-time vacancy; Artis offered a big-time skill set as a penetrator, distributor and all-around defensive pest.
“Some would say it’s a chance for Coach Floyd,” the junior said. “I really do, I go hard for that man. I really do, for him sticking his neck out there for me like that. Myself and my family, we couldn’t appreciate it more.”
Because whatever happens from here, on the court and off, Dominic Artis has no choice but to own it. For better or worse, he knows that, too.
Above: UTEP’s Dominic Artis knows the issues he had at Oregon will be part of what people think about him today. (Courtesy UTEP Athletics)