REBELS BASKETBALL:

Carlos Lopez growing in the shadows for UNLV

Freshman forward is physically transforming, and it’s translated toward his presence on the practice floor

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Justin M. Bowen

Rebels freshman power forward Carlos Lopez skies to snatch a rebound at a practice prior to the 2009-10 season.

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Carlos Lopez, who helped Findlay College Prep win a national championship last season, gathers a loose ball during a preseason UNLV practice.

Carlos Lopez used to look like the kind of guy who had skipped a meal or two in his day.

Well, that's because the UNLV freshman forward actually did. In fact, he'd skip one almost every day.

As soon as he arrived on campus this fall, Jason Kabo — the Rebels' strength and conditioning guru — wasn't going to let that fly. For Lopez, who at the time had 198 pounds and 10 percent body fat filling out his lanky 6-foot-11 frame, the goals for his year as a redshirt were made to be just as lofty off the practice floor as they were on it.

"We tried to make sure he was eating at least three meals a day, for one," Kabo said. "There was about a two- or three-week period where I was calling him and telling him to call me every time he ate and tell me what he ate."

Then came the Peanut PowerButter.

It's a supplement that Kabo used to pack pounds efficiently onto the bodies of former Rebels big men and current NBA stalwarts Joel Anthony and Lou Amundson.

It tastes like regular peanut butter, but contains 24 grams of protein per serving as opposed to eight grams in a standard serving of Jif or Skippy.

By mixing it and blending it in a shake, Kabo said Lopez is getting an extra 700 calories a day.

"I either mix it with chocolate and it tastes like a Reese's peanut butter cup, or I mix it with strawberry and it tastes like Cap'n Crunch cereal," Kabo said.

After the food was the hard part — The weights.

"He kind of had to learn how to work, you could put it," Kabo added. "He wasn't used to lifting at the same intensity as I was used to having the guys at. The first few weeks in the fall he was like 'What are you doing to me?'

"We're doing incline bench press the other day, he had 175 pounds on the bar. I think we had five sets of three or four. He did it, and he got to the third and fourth set and he's like 'Oh my God, I can't believe I did that.'"

With the off-court improvements, everything has snowballed for Lopez. What was a 198-pound softer body back in August is now a defined, more solid 210 pounds with 7 percent body fat.

"I wouldn't say it's hard to add muscle to (his frame) — I'd say it's harder to notice it," Kabo said. "Your muscles are so elongated, you're so thin. You'll never look at him and say 'Oh, he's gotten bulky.' He's put on more muscle mass and he's more defined, but he'll never look like Brice (Massamba) or Darris (Santee). You'll never see that."

Massamba and Santee, in turn, have seen and felt Lopez's improvement first-hand this season in practices, as he's become a strong force for the red squad, which battles daily with UNLV's regular rotation players.

"My mindset is much stronger than it was in the beginning of the year," Lopez said. "The beginning of the year, I couldn't do anything with Brice or Darris. Boxing out wasn't my strength. Now, I'm feeling more comfortable with it."

Massamba may have taken notice better than anyone.

The two close friends who played together for a year down the road at Findlay Prep in the Henderson foothills now wage daily wars in the paint on both ends of the court.

"Everything he does is tough," Massamba said. "He takes the ball to the basket tougher, he's rebounding better, he's playing physical. He didn't used to play that physical at Findlay Prep when he started. He's doing good things."

Lopez's physical presence, Massamba said, catches teammates' eyes, too.

Aside from beginning to grow his hair back out, adding a chin-strap beard and a tattoo to pay tribute to his beloved grandmother on his right shoulder, Lopez presents a more hulking image, especially in his upper arms and shoulders.

He clearly paid heed to the 'sink or swim' opportunity given by the UNLV coaching staff when he was told he'd redshirt this season. Lopez looks the part of a man, rather than just a tall boy.

"He's swimming pretty good right now," Massamba said.

The work for Lopez during his redshirt season, however, is far from complete.

Kabo said the goal for Lopez is to get his weight up to 220 by season's end, then successfully maintain that over the summer while trimming a bit more body fat.

Also, for the rest of the season, team practice sessions are serving as time in the laboratory, so to speak, for Lopez.

"The thing we ask of Carlos in practice is just to do more," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Expand your game, try to do things you're not necessarily comfortable doing. Try to take advantage of this year to work on the things that you do well, but also expand your arsenal. I think he's doing a good job and he has a great attitude about competing every day.

The thing about it is he has very good instincts. He sees the floor, he anticipates well. Those are things that are difficult to teach."

The things that Lopez once wasn't comfortable with are what he's developed.

He came in with a nice set of abilities on the perimeter, and has exceptional ball-handling skills for his size. After a few months, he's looked more and more comfortable on the defensive end, is a stronger and more aggressive rebounder and plays with the attitude that he belongs, rather than looking like a freshman finding his way.

At the moment, he displays an offensive game in practice reminiscent of UNLV 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Chace Stanback, which can quickly spread out an opposing defense.

He's also been a nice complement on the red squad to 6-foot-8 Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas, who is redshirting this season per NCAA rules. While Thomas is a bruiser who naturally can knock guys around inside, he can clear the road for Lopez at the same time.

Add in the fact that Lopez has traveled with the team to most of its road games this season, and he's getting the full Division-I experience minus the actual game play.

As time passes, he looks more game-ready by the day.

"Sometimes, when I'm sitting on the end of the bench, I'm like 'Damn, I wish I was playing,'" Lopez said. "But it's paying off. It's really paying off right now, and I'm ready to take it on."

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  1. Very excited to get Lopez out on the court next year.

    He was very good at Findlay Prep. I watched a lot of their games here in Vegas and all 3 games of the espn rise tournament that they won.

    He had some great games in that tournament against some tough competition. Got a lot of praise from the announcers and some good publicity for UNLV on espn.

  2. I also watched him play both his junior & senior years @ FP & I'm still not sold on this guy. We'll see next year.

  3. Ryan, another nice piece.

    From your privileged view in the practice gym, please tell me Q. Thomas has more potential than Santee at this point.

  4. Lenny's right. Lopez at 230 would be awesome. But hopefully he doesn't lose his shooting touch a la Wink Adams' senior year

  5. I have high hopes for Lopez too! With his long body and ability to see the floor well and anticipate, I'm picturing something similar to Joel Anthony on the defensive end with a little more to offer on the offensive end. Obviously we can't expect him to be the game changer Joel was right away, but his body and instincts make that a possibility down the road. As long as he doesn't come out looking like Beas Hamga did after his red-shirt season, I'll be happy.
    On a separate note, I think it's good to see UNM, BYU and UNLV (and SDSU to some extent) separating themselves from the rest of the conference. Anything less than 3 NCAA bids for the conference will be a disappointment. One easy way to see the respect the MWC: on Joe Lunardi's Bubble Watch, the Mountain West has its own category rather than being thrown in with the "Other Contenders" as we have been in years past. As much as it hurts me to say, I kind of pull for UNM in conference games (other than against UNLV) because it helps the conference. I still can't do the same for BYU... at least not until the NCAAs.

  6. Jerry - I don't know that putting on the muscle would have the negative impact on Carlos Lopez that it obviously had on Wink. First, Lopez still has 4 years of college ball to play, so he'll learn how to play with the new muscle. Also, if he bulks up to 225-230, he'll hopefully be playing closer to the basket, so the shooting touch won't be such an issue. Wink was a guard and so much of his game was predicated on shooting the ball well, so the potential for impact was much greater in his case.

  7. I, too, get worried with so much weight being put on quickly. It really messes with your shot when you bulk up your arms (did to me anyway). A little at a time is best, but maybe that he's practicing almost daily helps a lot.

  8. We need his size now. I wish he wasn't redshirted. He could be getting garbage minutes now and getting some experience playing at this level. Better than some of the players getting minutes now.

    S711

  9. Sufferin - We could recruit those players, but you get the attitude and discipline issues that usually follow players from those areas. Kruger usually doesn't recruit guys that don't have good character, which can lead to "soft" players, but also doesn't lead to some of the issues that come with players who cause problems. It sounds like QT will be a bit of a banger next year, so tat will help and ESPN recruiting has us in the running for another physical PF a year or two down the road from New Jersey. I agree we need some tougher inside players, but don't think we should sacrifice character to get them.

  10. @Sofaking ... I actually think the alternative you're referring to is what he's doing. He's getting a whole season, plus this summer, to adjust to the weight. So far, he's looked pretty good. I don't see any kind of Wink Adams effect here, where the addition of tons of muscle messes with his shot for an extended period of time. If anything, it's made Lopez more well-rounded.

    @patticus ... Thanks. As for Q, he's looked more and more comfortable after coming back from the shoulder surgery. I didn't expand on it too much in the story, but he and Lopez complement each other REALLY well inside. Can't say that enough. Q is very tough, a competitive rebounder and has a great motor, which helps on the offensive end. He'll be potentially a guy who gets lots of second-chance points, in my opinion.

  11. Contrary to what a lot of people think, I actually believe Kruger does a decent job with big guys - at least as far as what he has to work with. I think he did a great job with Joel Anthony and I believe he also helped out with Lou Amundson. I may be wrong with Amundson, someone will correct me I'm sure. But he knows how to coach and develop the tall lanky players. For that matter, he actually had Darger playing inside and he did well, especially considering he wasn't a true big. Unfortunately, we're not getting that quality bruiser type yet. Q is on the horizon and I think our current players just need to keep progressing. I would be interested in seeing Shaw play the 4 spot with Massamba inside. I think that could be a good matchup for some of the more physical teams.

    Can't overlook tomorrow's game but the BYU game will be huge for UNLV. We gave it away at their place and now we have to get it back.

  12. I agree with Sufferin' on this one.

    I will sacrifice a little on the character end to pull a recruit that is a dominator and can make an immediate impact. We need to start recruiting better, I'm not exactly sure how but it needs to be done.

    In the off-season following the loss in the NCAA tournament to Kansas we were recruiting head to head with the Oregon Ducks for the services of Michael Dunnigan (6'11 Center from Chicago) He choose Oregon over us for some reason (misguided youth) and is now a sophomore and really starting to blossom into a game changer and an inside defensive presence. This is the type of player that we need and to not be able to secure him is extremely disappointing. Just imagine how are team would be looking with him on the roster, as a sophomore nonetheless!

  13. I'm not saying that we should never recruit from those type of cities, but recruitment should be on a case-by-case basis. Just like we can't paint everyone with the same brush and say that every basketball player from Oakland is a thug and will cause problems, we can't assume that just because a kid is from the inner city, his "toughness" will translate to the basketball court. Obviously Michael Dunnigan would have been a great recruit for us, but its because of his size and skill, not the fact that he is from Chicago. Don't forget Kruger has been getting recruits from the LA area as well.
    I would love to get one of those "special" players that can step in and have a huge impact right away. That's why even though we are guard heavy, I would rather have Cory Joseph than Polee. Polee fits a need for our system, but Cory Joseph is one of the top 5 guards in the country. If he is as good as advertised and we get him (which we probably won't) he can take us to the next level.

  14. I never said that he would have been a great addition to our team because he is from Chicago.

    I threw his name out there so that people could see the type of player that got away from us due to our poor recruiting and then in turn reflect on the players we signed to play the same position. (Massamba,Hamga)

    Now from what I have heard Dunnigan dosen't have any of those character issues that can be detremental to team chemistry or cause a player to be dismissed from a team. I guess what I was trying to say without spelling it out is that I would overlook a few character issues or still bring in a player with character issues in hopes of helping that young man grow and mature IF his upside was so great that it could take our team to the next level.

    But this is Coach Kruger's team and not mine, so my view/opinion of this practice means squat.

  15. Side note: I don't agree that Hamga was due to poor recruiting. While he turned out to have cold hands and an attitude problem, he was a five-star recruit, 26th in the nation, and 5th on the list for his position.

    If Kruger was wrong, so was everyone else.

  16. Have to see him play first.

  17. @ J-Roc

    How can you call it poor recruiting when it came down to UNLV and Oregon? Poor recruiting is when we are not in the picture! Did Kruger not show up to watch his games, no contact the kid, call his mom names? The kid made a choice, and those choices are influenced by parents who don't always want their kids moving the Sin City. Come up with facts not just unfounded statements and conjecture.

  18. I have to totally disagree with Sufferin and J-Roc when it comes to foriegn born players being soft. Just go ask Brandon Jennings. He is TEARING up the NBA right now. He couldnt do much over in Europe because he was not used to to rough style of play. He said that playing over in Europe really toughened him up because they are way more physical over there. Kevin Kruger also has said the same exact thing on 1100am radio just the other day. I would rather take their word on that then Sufferin's anyday, since they ACTUALLY played over there and im sure neither of you have. Just that great american attitude that we are bigger stronger faster, etc... or just plain arrogance and ignorance. So, please, before you make a generalization again do your research, because you both look ignorant(we all know sufferin is, but J-Roc i would expect more from you).

  19. I'll call it poor recruiting, you can call it what you want.

    The center position has been of emphasis since we lost Essengue & Anthony and I still don't think that we have fully addressed the problem. Letting a player like this get away from us and not having someone else adequately fill the position yet makes me feel like we have recruited poorly at that position or we didn't do enough to get the player(s) we needed.

    Since people are a little sensative to me using the "poor recruiting" phrase I'll go ahead and call it "Disappointing" It's disappointing that we didn't get a commitment from this/these player(s)

    I should have been a little more specific when I agreed with Sufferin. I do not think that foreign players are soft in general. Of course some play a more finesse game but they have plenty of players that are just as physical as the next guy. I have watched plenty of basketball and there are lots of physical foreign players.

  20. I read an atical on lopez' recruiting page that said that lopez' docter in puerto rico had him growing to 7'1"-7'2" cause his growth plates had not matured fully? anybody know anything about that? MR. GREENE?

  21. sory article

  22. Kruger cannot recruit big guys. He plays this bs 4 guard offense which might yield decent results in a conference like the MWC, but nationally it will not work. Some will claim this is what Villanova does and use that do defend Kruger's system. Big difference being that Villanova has elite talent all over the court. Kruger needs to start recruiting some decent guys with size and power and stop relying on transfers or 200 pound euro-style 7 footers who will get abused by anyone with some toughness. Thomas might be a good addition but Lopez is going to get pushed around all over the place and might beg for mercy in the post when we play some real teams. I am not referring to MWC teams specifically, I am referring to elite teams. They will abuse him.

    Also, Kruger tends to play guys out of position more than anyone I've ever seen. Darger, Terry, Willis (last year), Marshall, Chop Jones (who is terrible no matter what position he plays), Jasper, Stanback, and now he's going to go with a 7 footer as a small forward. These are all facts and fall on Kruger's shoulders. Recruit guys who play the position they are supposed to. I remember he even used Mo Rutledge as a center at times. That is embarrassing and we will never be a national contender with a roster like this. We might compete in the MWC, but never at a national level with players like this.

  23. Carlos Lopez is a plant?

  24. We all have to remember that Coach Kruger has never been able to land elite recruits wherever he has been. Whether that is by design or he just cannot land them I do not know. I can only think of three players that Coach has recruited that had long NBA careers(Mitch Richmond, Andrew Declerq, and Brian Cook) with Richmond the only player with a stand out career. That being said alot of Coach Tark's best players were not "elite" recruits like Gilliam, Paddio, Augmon, Hunt, Rider, Anthony etc. He beat the bushes for top juco talent, transfers, and vagabonds. I am not all that concerned that Coach get tons of top 50 high school kids but get guys that have great upside like Gilliam, Augmon, Hunt etc that can become great players. That is what I would like to see. He is a very good bench Coach and he has brought winning back to Las Vegas but to get our program to a perennial top 25 level, he will have to continue to improve our talent level. Hopefully guys like Willis, Stanback, Hawkins, Jasper, Thomas, and Lopez are that step in the right direction.

  25. letsgorebs - who is 7 foot that Kruger is gonna use for a small forward??? it wont be Lopez as he is being developed for center or power forward but most likely be playing at center next year.

    Now just think about next years roster with out considering any possible recruits...
    Lopez/Massamba C
    QT/Shaw PF
    Stanback/Jasper SF
    Willis/Marshall SG
    Bellfield PG

    Now if we got Polee and Joseph or just one of them we would have our first and 2nd team capable of beating up on just about anybody. The next few years of Rebel basketball is gonna be very exciting. And just think every single year we get better and better recruits, there is no way you can deny this.

  26. Incognito,

    According to Ryan Greene,

    "Lopez will be more of a small forward, which given his shooting touch and ball-handling ability for a guy with that size, is just fine, I think."

    He said this on his comments here: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2010/jan...

    Once again, that team would be good in the MWC, but as far as being competitive with the elite teams in the country, not a chance.

  27. Hey Lenny,

    Who are you? Was I even talking to you? Come up with something of substance next time and maybe I'll engage with you in a conversation. If you can point out something I said that was untrue, then talk to me, if not shut up and enjoy watching mediocre, NIT basketball. I don't like it. Can't speak for you though.

  28. Hey thanks for the vote of confidence MikeHunt. If you can pull any strings to land me that job I'd really apprectiate it, hell I'll even take a job being the assistant to the recruiting coordiantor.

  29. letsgorebs started his account at the same time Sufferin was getting blasted so most likely(99%) he is Sufferin... Enough with this NIT crap cause at this point its not even a discussion. now if for some strange reason we just fall apart then we may end up there.

    letsgorebs(aka sufferin)- so just because ryan greene thinks he will be a small forward is what your basing that on??? obviuosly you have never seen Lopez play. He will never be a small forward unless were playing a HUGE lineup with MASSAMBA at Center, QT at PF, and Lopez as the other Forward with 2 guards... just not gonna happen in Kruger's system unless Kruger changes his style of play. and at that point it would actually be a 2 center, 2 guard and a power forward lineup with Lopez as a floater transitioning all over the floor. Could actually be a very tough lineup for teams to match up with.

  30. I think that those of you who are critical of this team have your expectations out of whack. I have no problem with you posting your comments and voicing your opinion, but I just think you are expecting too much for a team that lost 4 starters from last year. It's very difficult to reload from that, and the fact that this team is 17-4 should be commended. I know the Rebels aren't exactly blowing anyone out, but they're the only team to win at New Mexico this year and they're the only team to even give BYU a game at the Marriott Center, which the Rebels should have won.

    For those of you old enough to remember the national championship team from 20 years ago, that team lost at New Mexico St. and UC Santa Barbara that year, and we would all agree that team had way more talent than this team. This team has had 2 disappointing losses to USC and Utah, but to complain about a team with a 17-4 record that has only 1 starter back from last year and a couple of transfers who haven't played competitive college basketball in over a year just doesn't make sense to me.

    Again, I respect your right to express your negative opinions, but let's keep it real! I think we're all expecting next year's team to be able to play with anyone in the country, but let's enjoy this year's team for the next month and a half or so.

  31. Incognito,

    Everyone who doesn't agree with everything you say is sufferin according to you. You're ridiculous. The thing I was trying to explain was the fact that our players seem to always be playing out of position. If Ryan says he's going to be a small forward, then the discussion has to at least have come up. I guess because I said that, I am Sufferin. LOL. I guess all the guys on every UNLV message board saying the same thing are just one guy with thousands of different accounts. Come up with something a little more original than that. And stop stalking me, seems like every time I post, you reply back like ten minutes later.

  32. Well said, Hoops_Fan. I'll take 17-4.

  33. Well said hoops as well. It's nice hearing about other guys on the team, but I'm living in the present, and it looks damn good at 17-4.

  34. game better be sold out this saturday.... all you closet rebel haters can take it out on the zoobs in blue.

  35. letsgorebs - your just a hater. your predicting this team is in the NIT just like Sufferin and you created your account on 11/14/09 about the same time Sufferin was getting ripped. besides sufferin your about the only other one ripping this talented team saying they are only NIT talent. You must not watch them play ever and obviuosly have no clue as to how talented this team really is. They are still young and getting better and better as the season goes on. But to you and sufferin they are just an NIT team. So why do you bother following this team if they are no good??? how bout you leave the comment section to real fans that have good things to say about the team instead of constantly ripping the team like you and sufferin... maybe you should change your name to letsgobyu or letsgonm cause you dont deserve the rebs in your name. =)

  36. Sufferin is wrong again...

    Puerto Rico isn't some soft foreign country, but a U.S. Territory...Also, Big men out of Puerto Rico generally play more like American big men, with a little more outside game, but they're not "soft"....remember the Bayno recruited UMASS team that had a few Puerto Ricans on it...that team was very tough and made it to a final four.

    ...again, not sure why I comment about RR's drivel, but its so annoying when a guy criticizes young, talented 19 year old red shirts. Its absurd....time to take your meds RR.

  37. Lopez certainly did not play the 3 in the early practices or at the team event. He looked a little green (no offense Ryan), but he was playing in there tough with the other bigs.

  38. If you cant see this is one of the best 64 teams in the country you are crazy!

  39. I think Ryan was saying that his skill set is more of a forward because of his shooting range. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.
    Plus isn't the 3 spot our weakest position in terms of depth? Lopez will never be a bruiser. his frame can only put on so much muscle. He is a decent shot blocker and will be a good help defender with his quickness and IQ.
    Here's another news flash, there aren't many quality big men in the country. The overall skill set of bigs in basketball is much improved compared to severl years ago. Now bigs can handle the ball, shoot the three, and run the floor. You can't stick a big 7 footer out there and do well just because he's big. I would like to have more players like QT on this team, but you should never expect of gett many Thabeet, Oden types, because there just aren't many out there. You know Wyoming has quite a few big, slow players, you wanna trade some players with them?

  40. LV-Born-N-Raised - my thoughts exactly... this team has been in the top 40 ALL YEAR... if we were NIT quality we wouldnt be in the top 60 at all... im just gonna take it as those people who think this is an NIT team just are not educated enough on college b-ball or sports in general and have no reason to comment on something they have no clue about. but this is a free country and they are free to express their opinion just like im free to rip their uneducated opinions to pieces =) . I've been pretty much right on with this team for a while now, just like i said last year that this team was gonna be very good with the new talent and people just didnt think we had any talent. i posted the starting lineup before the season started and i was pretty right on with that. how was i able to say all that stuff??? because i've EDUCATED MYSELF on the team i love. so please dont get upset if i rip one of your comments because if i feel its an uneducated assessment then i will let you know. Time to kill BYU!!!! go get em REBELS!!!!