Friday, Aug. 6, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
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Carlos Lopez is now at the point where his increased confidence comes across in simple conversation.
Getting in the gym and turning yourself into essentially a new man can have that effect.
Lopez walked onto the UNLV campus last summer as a gangly 6-foot-11, 198-pound, talent-rich project of sorts following a strong prep career down the road in the Henderson foothills at Findlay Prep.
Toward the end of last season — his redshirt year — Lopez was willing to mix it up a bit more inside on the practice floor, having bulked up to 210 pounds and trimmed his body fat from 10 percent down to seven.
Once he got started growing the right way with team strength and conditioning coach Jason Kabo, he had no intention of stopping.
With the fall semester roughly a month away, Lopez is now proud to report that he's up to a fit and defined 232 pounds.
"I've always had the toughness," he said. "Even when I was at 200 (pounds), I had the toughness. My body just didn't allow me to do much. Now it's just easier.
"I feel like I've taken huge steps. I can guard the post, bang a little bit, be way stronger and more aggressive. Now my body allows me to do that."
Lopez hasn't changed any of his workout or nutrition habits over the summer months. His body has simply progressed at a more rapid rate.
On top of playing pick-up ball almost every day, Lopez is still on a consistent weight program with Kabo, is eating healthy and downing peanut butter protein shakes like they're running out of supply.
"I think he's really taken good advantage of the redshirt year," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "He's gotten bigger, stronger. His work ethic has been great. He's entering his freshman year, and I think his starting point now is so much advanced over what it was a year ago."
Last season, Kruger encouraged Lopez to showcase his perimeter skills in practice, all in an effort to expand his game. But what Lopez has shown this summer is his ability to use that size inside, which will be key this season.
The Rebels are counting on Lopez along with junior Brice Massamba and sophomore Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas to provide some attitude and presence on the interior that was not a consistent threat last season.
But the physical progression has done so much more for Lopez than just making him more of a potential contributor on the court.
"It's not only basketball. It's all the way around. School-wise, myself as a person," the Puerto Rico native said. "I've improved in every aspect of my life. It's hard when you come to the (United) States at 14 (years old) not speaking any English, and look at me now. You have to grow up fast.
"I do feel older than 20 years old."
Lopez also feels now as if he is better set up to reach his ultimate goal of playing professional basketball after his UNLV days are up.
Some might say those are lofty personal expectations, considering he has yet to play in a Division-I game.
But confidence can go a long way.
"All of the gaining weight, that comes with more confidence and, in a good way, cockiness about my game," he said. "I see myself closer to that goal. I still have a long way to go, but I see myself getting there."
76 Classic bracket set
On Wednesday, UNLV finalized the dates for its complete 2010-11 men's basketball schedule.
On Thursday, the only TBA left to be set before the season in terms of opposition was set in stone.
The Rebels will open a three-game swing at the 76 Classic in late November with an opening-round game against Tulsa in Anaheim, Calif., at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 25 — Thanksgiving Day.
It will be the last of four opening-round contests, but will be the only quarterfinal match-up played on ESPN2, with the three earlier games showing on ESPNU.
The winner of that game will play again at 8:30 p.m. on Friday against the winner of a showdown between Murray State and Stanford.
Following a day off, the four final games will take place on Sunday, with the title game tipping at 6 p.m. and airing on ESPN2.
The other two opening-round games pit Virginia Tech against host Cal State Northridge and Oklahoma State vs. DePaul.
UNLV is 5-2 all-time against Tulsa, with the last meeting being an 89-62 Golden Hurricane win in the first round of the 2000 NCAA tournament.
Last season, Tulsa was 23-12 overall and 10-6 in Conference USA play, losing on a last-second shot to Kent State in the first round of the NIT.