It would be too easy to categorically condemn Dominique, and Williams-Garcia is not about easy. Dominique's wants are simple: She wants to play basketball. She needs it, she thinks, like she breathes. And when she's punished for getting a seventy (a D) in class instead of a seventy-five (a C), her world turns upside-down.
If there's one thing Dominique understands, it's basketball. She's playing varsity, and she knows that she's good. She plays on the courts in her neighborhood with grown men, and because of this, she's pretty physical in the game, plus she's good as a playmaker and as a guard. Two of the varsity players recognize her, and Dominique eats up their attention.
Dominique even recognizes other people's passions. For instance, she notices her history teacher's efforts:
Got to give it to him, the poor bastard. He shows up. Suited. Ready. This is his game. His minutes. It's gotta suck when you're the only one ready on game day.
So I call out, "Trust. It doesn't mean they trust each other." (10.8-9)
Her teacher is trying to get a discussion going, and Dominique feels empathetic to his plight. She doesn't have to help him out, but she does. Importantly, this shows that she's not a heartless person, which makes her actions at the end of the book that much more heartbreaking.
With the good comes the bad. Dominique has a temper. She doesn't think that she does, but we are able to see that she actually does have a temper, even with her friends.
But I'm all right and that's Viv, not a baller, so I step back, smack my fist into my other hand. Viv's lucky. She don't know. She just don't know. I coulda hurt her in a flash, so I'm like chill. (3.12)
Maybe it is instinct, or maybe it's a learned behavior from the courts in her neighborhood. But whatever it is, Dominique's first response to someone physically getting to close to her is physicality and aggression. This does not bode well for Trina.
Closely tied to temper is anger. Dominique is so angry about not being able to have her minutes on the court, and this is ever-present in the course of the one day this book covers. She has a tendency to solve her problems with violence, and she even thinks in terms of predator and prey, which we can see in one of her (many) efforts to get her grade changed:
"Listen, Hershheiser," I say, "I need my grade changed."
He tries to walk fast but I'm on him. Little man, where you think you going? We 'bout the same height but I know you feel my shadow. I know you feel me sticking. (3.27-28)
Dominique uses her powerful personality to get all up in Hershheiser's business. The problem is, though, that while she thinks she has power, in this case she doesn't. She's read the power relationships wrong. Maybe if she had asked what she could do instead of demanding a grade change, it might have worked, but that would take swallowing some pride and Dominique just can't do that. Like Leticia, Dominique has trouble accepting that her grade is the result of her own actions, not the actions of her teachers.
So, unable to convince her teacher to change her grade, she tries to sway Coach, who tells Dominique this:
"Duncan. Out." And she points to the door like she points to the bench. Like I'm a dog and I take commands. She has the minutes, the game, the season, and I got zip. (3.56)
This is the last straw for Dominique. She feels totally trapped and powerless to get back the one thing she cares about. She doesn't know how to force Hershheiser to change her grade, especially if he continues to avoid her, which he does, and she can't convince Coach to change the rules. Dominique has no power.
So she tries to regain her power the only way she knows how: through violence, by jumping Trina after school.
Trina's crime? Getting too close to Dominique when Dominique was angry. The real reason Dominique is upset, though, is because she feels unappreciated and unseen.
It's not that I want to respond to it, I have to respond to it. I can't let that slide. (6.34)
Dominique feels like she's invisible in a lot of areas of her life: Hershheiser won't give her the time of day, Coach totally brushes her off in the morning, and Trina is the only person that Dominique can really act against. So we have to wonder if the "wanting/having" to respond is to regain her reputation or to regain some semblance of control and visibility in her life.
The last time Dominique talks to Coach, she begs to be put back in, and Coach says no. Dominique feels beyond slighted:
That was all I got. For all my assists. All my steals. For making fouls when we needed to, for sinking foul shots, I was invisible to her. (30.14)
Even though Dominique tries to talk to Coach about how out of control she feels, that the court is the only place where she feels in control, Coach still tells her to leave. And when Dominique attacks Trina, she keeps yelling:
"You see me, b****?
You see me, b****?
You see my face now, b****?" (33.11-13)
It's all about being visible to Dominique. This doesn't excuse Dominique's actions against Trina, of course—Trina is in no way, shape, or form part of Dominique problem, plus violence isn't cool—but we have to wonder if, during the day, Dominique had experienced a little more compassion and felt a little more visible, she would have made the same choices. Given her insistence on being seen by Trina, we're thinking it's quite possible things could have unfolded differently.