Living up to hype is hard
Lopez hoping for a fresh start, long career in the NBA
Posted: Monday June 22, 1998 05:42 PM
NEW YORK (CNN/SI) -- The last shot of Felipe Lopez's college career was perfectly fitting. What could have lifted St. John's into the second round of the NCAA Tournament, instead served as one last reminder of four years of frustration and unfulfilled potential.
Now, a new chapter is about to be added to the mystery of Lopez, a story that just might have a happy ending in the NBA.
"It was hard. A lot of times, I kinda went home feeling sorry about myself," said Lopez. "I kinda learned how to pick myself up and learn to live every day as it goes. As a basketball player, it just made me look at the game a lot different, work harder. Now I go with a different attitude to the game, that is something I learned playing four years in college."
Four years ago, Lopez's basketball prospects were unparalleled. The latest legend sprung from the playgrounds of New York City, Lopez was hailed as The Michael Jordan of the Hispanic community. Stardom was a foregone conclusion.
"I look at Felipe Lopez, a classic example of a kid who couldn't possibly live up to expectations," said New York Daily News sportswriter Dick Weiss. "In high school, [he was a] great player in New York, and was the MVP of the McDonald's Classic. Before he ever played a [college basketball] game, he's on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Most people said if he'd come out of high school and gone right to the pros, he might have been the 15th pick in the draft. Going into this year, he might not have even been the 50th."
So what does the NBA see now when it looks at Lopez? He was fifth in the Big East in scoring during his senior season and led the Red Storm to its first NCAA Tournament since 1993 -- the year before Lopez arrived. But which is the more accurate gauge: the Lopez who struggled for three seasons or the one who seems to have matured in the last?
"He's extremely athletic and if he ever gets his outside shooting down, he could be in the league a long time to stay," said Boston Celtics general manager Chris Wallace. "You can start looking for Felipe's name to be called the latter end of the first round."
NBA Director of Scouting Marty Blake thinks Lopez will play either the off-guard or small forward position at the pro level.
"He can play the two, he can play the three," said Blake. "A great kid who will work. I hope that he will have a good career."
Since the end of the season, Lopez's stock has risen tremendously. He was MVP of the coaches' all-star game Final Four weekend, was named to the all-tournament team at the Portsmouth Invitational pre-draft camp, and tied for the scoring lead at the Chicago pre-draft camp, where he hit 18 of his 21 shots.
"They have seen a different style of play, especially playing in this pre-draft camp," said Lopez. "Obviously, it's a more open game, I can develop my game a lot more. I still got to work on a lot of things, but so far I'm doing pretty well."
It could be that the Lopez is better suited for NBA-style basketball. At the very least, the demands of a pro career could be easier to handle than the pressure he's already endured.
"Yeah, I hope so," said Lopez. "I hope it is."
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