Prep Basketball:

After run at prep crown, Lopez to ink UNLV deal — literally

Findlay Prep senior relishes success at high school and college levels

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Justin M. Bowen

Findlay Prep senior Carlos Lopez looks for the ball during a recent practice before the school embarks on a prep national championship run.

Click to enlarge photo

Findlay Prep senior Carlos Lopez shows his tattoo during a recent practice before the school embarks on a prep national championship run.

The pain was almost unbearable, a great challenge. Another hurdle. Carlos “Yao” Lopez winced. He almost cried.

It had nothing to do with being benched by Findlay College Prep basketball coach Mike Peck this season. It had everything to do with sitting in that seat at Living Dead Tattoo on Rainbow.

A few weeks ago, Lopez had a smiling basketball, donning a crown with twinkling stars above, etched in ink on the inside of his right biceps.

The artist ensured that the eyes on the ball that peek up at Lopez perfectly matched Lopez’s. She told him not to look, that it would hurt even more or make him feel queasy.

He looked.

“She thought I’d throw up,” said Lopez, 18. “I said, no, I want to look. I saw the process. It was cool. I never thought of a tattoo. I never liked tattoos.

“But I needed something to represent that I got to college, to represent my progress in life and that I’m doing well. It’s like a crowned prince. A symbol. I got tough. I sucked it up.”

It took two hours and cost $160, and he’s not finished. When Findlay returns from the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational in Maryland after this weekend, he will have U-N-L-V inked behind the ball.

Lopez will play for the Rebels next season. He talks to his mother, Glydys, in Puerto Rico about how far he’s come and his good fortune.

“Going to college will be special,” he said. “The tattoo means a lot to me in many ways. Many ways.”

A pillar of the Pilots

Lopez arrived in Las Vegas 2 1/2 years ago and almost left after two weeks. He didn’t understand English and couldn’t comprehend remaining in this strange place.

He weighed 175 pounds, and he didn’t see a future in basketball or school.

Fifty pounds later, Lopez is a pillar of the 3-year-old Findlay program. He is the last of the original Pilots.

“We’ll miss him sorely,” Peck said.

Peck and assistant coach Todd Simon talk about the value of having a few players like Lopez every season, and not just because he’s the rare elite player who puts the team first in everything.

Not just because he’s always barking out directions and picks and other nuances of the game to his teammates from his defensive post back by the basket.

(UNLV coach Lon Kruger must be salivating to finally have a big man like that on his roster.)

But what’s unique about Lopez is that he learned to relish every second of his experience at the Henderson International School, with which Findlay is affiliated.

He has coached the Henderson International fifth- and sixth-grade boys team, and the 6-foot-10 center has befriended everyone who is half his size on the small campus.

“We have to identify guys who enjoy the small-school experience, the pep assemblies and talking with fellow students,” Peck said, “guys who enjoy coming to school in the morning and want to get the most out of it.

“That’s been so important to Carlos’s success and development. It speaks volumes. You need guys like that. Some of that is contagious, and others will get on board faster.”

Click to enlarge photo

Findlay Prep senior Carlos Lopez shoots during a recent practice before the school embarks on a prep national championship run.

Moving in

Until last month, Lopez lived with an English as a Second Language (ESL) professor to aid his transition to the tricky language and adapt to the area.

The plan couldn’t have worked better, and Lopez is ecstatic to be able to stay in Southern Nevada, which he considers his adopted home, and play at UNLV next season.

Last month, however, on the heels of the departures of Willie Hankins and Victor Rudd, and the arrival of power forward Tristan Thompson, Lopez moved into the home in which the rest of the Pilots live.

It’s a short walk up the street from Henderson International.

Lopez made the move to make the most of his stretch run as a prepster and to further promote chemistry and harmony on the Findlay squad as it aims for its first national championship.

“We’re a family,” he said. “We don’t have anybody but each other. Other kids go home to their families, their mothers and fathers. We don’t. We have each other.

“I’m so proud of each of my teammates. I love being here.”

But he has his limits. In the care packages Glydys Lopez sends her son, he savors the pasteles, meat and rice mixed in banana-leaf packets, the most. A teammate will ask him, What’s that?

Nothing there, Lopez says. Nothing special. And he’ll hide them in a corner of the freezer.

Eye opener

Lopez capped his second consecutive 30-0 regular season with 16 points a month ago in a 50-point pummeling of Impact Basketball Academy.

He started and had his finest game of a roller-coaster campaign in which Peck benched him for a stretch. Wanting to do too much, as a senior, burdened Lopez. He thought too much.

Two games into Lopez’s benching, Peck showed him tapes of a few games in which his errors were glaring.

“I was like, Wow,” Lopez said. “I said, Coach, you’re absolutely right. It opened my eyes. I thought I was doing everything right, that there was no reason for me to be on the bench.

“Coach likes that I do all the little things, like playing defense, taking charges, stealing the ball and talking to my teammates. I wasn’t doing that. I wasn’t running the floor. I got back to doing all that.”

Lopez, who also battled finger and ankle injuries, averages 8.5 points and 6 rebounds, and he leads Findlay with 51 blocked shots.

Once he realized that Avery Bradley, D.J. Richardson and Cory Joseph can carry the scoring load, Lopez settled into a complementary role as an all-around pest.

Two weeks ago, former Findlay teammate and future Rebels teammate Brice Massamba marveled at how Lopez is starting to fill out, in his chest and arms, in a visit to the school in the Henderson foothills.

What’s inside?

Lopez’s dervish spins, power moves to the rim and block-out tactics will come in handy in what many believe will be an April 5 showdown in the ESPN title game against Oak Hill (38-0) and center Keith Gallon.

At 6-9 and 290 pounds, Gallon, who will play at Oklahoma next fall, belies his “Tiny” nickname.

Lopez said he’ll have plenty of help, too, against Tiny, with Thompson and junior forward Godwin Okonji. When pressed, Lopez smiled.

“He’s a big challenge,” Lopez said of Tiny. “I like playing against guys who think, just because they’re bigger, they’ll dominate me. It’s not just about how big you are, it’s about how much you have inside of you.

“I just love the challenge. I’ll just go play my game. And he better bring his game. That’s all I have to say … Findlay Prep is ready. I hope Oak Hill is ready.”

The Pilots were 32-0 a year ago when they lost to Hargrave Military Academy by two points in the National Prep Championship at Fordham in the Bronx, N.Y.

“We’re three games from the championship,” Lopez said. “And this actually is my second time, so I want to make it right. I want to get the championship.”

Then he’ll smile during every second when that U-N-L-V is tattooed onto the underside of his right biceps to complete a perfect chapter.

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  1. Looking forward to Gallon and Oak Hill already?....

    Mountain State and Montrose Christian have their own highly recruited big men to worry about. And these teams are slightly better than the Foothill's and Gorman's and Desert Pines' of the world.

    Smells like a letdown waiting to happen.

  2. I don't know about that Jeff. Findlay has just about rolled everyone this season, including Rice out of New York. Findlay is No. 1 in USA Today, Oak Hill No. 2. Newark (NJ) St. Benedict's could be the third-best team in this field, but Findlay dodged it in its bracket; Oak Hill likely will get St. Benedict's in a semifinal. Kudos to Lopez for not dodging the question.

  3. I'm still a skeptic about Lopez. Been to a lot of the games this year & last year where he dominates people smaller than him which he should. Also his attitude was kind of suspect. Saw him get a delay of game penalty in one game among other things I've noticed. I'm really looking foward to the Championship & how he plays against players on the same talent level as him if not better.

  4. He didn't dodge the question which is good for reading but he sure gave Oak Hill some poster board material if they meet up.

  5. Oh well Fast, so what? He believes what he says, that's all that matters. And he has the incredible cast, especially guards DJ Richardson, Avery Bradley and Cory Joseph, around him that will be the difference.

  6. I don't care if they win or not, just stating what was obvious to me.

  7. Let's go Carlos. We are rooting for you all the way big fella.

  8. I'm not leaning one way or the other either, Fast ... but the guy has convictions and isn't afraid to state them, unlike MANY athletes these days. You know that, too, so why joust?

  9. Lenny, call him 6-10 1/2 ish ... hey, you and I both know heights are inflated a tad on many rosters ... 6-11 with the hair. :-) (Remember Fletch?) Yes, Lopez told me a doctor in Puerto Rico projected him to hit 7-2. He'll get with Kabo this summer, yes, and he'll be on track. He's gonna be fine. huge upside

  10. The crazy part is that Rob Miech is almost as tall as Carlos. I saw them talking at a Rebel game and I was though, "WoW, Rob is standing right next to him!"

    Carlos will be good for UNLV. They finally got a guy who can play the power forward the way we need it to be done. I have seen him play a lot, once while sitting next to Rob. I think he will do just fine.

  11. ryphi, uh, not exactly. :-) Maybe he's 6-10 1/4 ... maybe he's 6-10 3/8 ... I definitely look up to the lad in a major way, and I'm 6-5. Whatever he is, he's tall and he plays big. As I've written, he does what neither Santee nor Massamba do -- Lopez takes the ball hard to the rim. Hard. He doesn't flinch in dunking or trying to dunk, And he rebounds hard. Those will be major differences in the post next fall at UNLV. He's smart and unselfish. And the best thing is locals have a known quantity coming in. Not much was known about Massamba a year ago because he played so sparingly, with a knee injury, at Findlay. If Lopez excels this summer, in the wt room under Kabo's direction and in pick-up ball in the dungeon, I bet he'll get the nod over Massamba and Santee.

  12. Rob I know you have seen him play and you are excited. I on the other hand am going to wait till I get a look at his skills in a UNLV uniform. I have been very disappointed with the recruits as of late so I will be watching with guarded optimism. We were supposed to have this post position solved X 3 last year. We all know how that turned out.

  13. Excitement? I don't know if I'd go that far gumby. I just think he's quite a talent and has a big upside, not that it's going to arrive in one fell swoop next season. That's as much a commentary on the lack of production down in the post last season by Massamba and Santee as it is a review of what Lopez might bring. You and I both know the chasm between elite prep ball and the big time in D-I. But the opportunity will be there for him to pop in there and contribute.
    Best thing about him is he's learned to be patient and he actually talks, barking out signals and screens, etc. That's part of his makeup that Kruger won't have to coax out. You'd think some guys actually didn't have tongues the way some Rebels were so quiet last season.

  14. I hear you. I often wondered if Santee had a pulse. He was remarkably inept on offense yet he made up for it by being soft on the boards and a sieve on defense. I cannot imagine Lopez being any worse (a hideous thought!)

  15. That would account for dunk after dunk due to blown assignments.

    Just about everyone who posts here is an athlete or former athlete. I, not being an exception, salivated when other players seemed, "to me", to be over confident or had talked some smack before or during a game. I played hard anyway but it made me play like my life was on the line. Athletes use just about anything to give themselves an edge. People runnin their mouths was no different. While I'm sure it's refreshing for you and for readers, opposing players might use it as motivation. But....that's just my perspective. I don't feel agitated and I hope you don't either, although it seems like you are with the jousting comment.

  16. Understandable Fast. I realize a foe will try to use any little thing, however real or perceived, to gain an edge, feel slighted, etc etc etc ... When it's time to go, though, if Oak Hill plays Findlay, the Warriors won't win or lose because of what Carlos said. That may or may not be a convenient element after the game, but ... no, not agitated at all. Sometimes the back and forth commentary can get old, but that's only because it's almost April and I need to sleep for about two months! :-)
    Most of all, it's just refreshing to ask a kid a question and hear a straight-up response with no hedging or hesitation, you know?
    thanks