Lopez travels to Goodwill Games

August 29, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

On Monday, El Centro native Omar Lopez will get a taste of what it's like to take on some of the NBA's best up and coming talent as a member of the Mexican national basketball team competing in the Goodwill Games in Brisbane, Australia.

After a solid first season at Cal Baptist in Riverside, during which he averaged 13 points and eight rebounds, the 6-foot-9-inch Lopez played summer basketball for the Tijuana Cerverceros, sponsored by Dos Equis, and played for Tierra Del Sol in Phoenix, where he was scouted by the Mexican national team. Lopez, whose grandfather, Narcissio Lopez, played on the Mexican national soccer team in the 1950s and '60s, was able to play for the team because both his parents were born in Mexico.

"I was really stoked when they came to me and asked me to play," said Lopez, a 1998 graduate of Central Union High in El Centro who later played at Imperial Valley College for two years. "Obviously my dream is to play in the NBA and this is an awesome opportunity to showcase and display what I can do."


Unfortunately, Lopez, who is bilingual, will not be in the starting lineup and said he will probably get about 20 minutes of playing time per game. Because he is "only" 6-9, he will not play center as he has in the past but play power forward.

Nicknamed "Bam Bam" by his Mexican national teammates because of his powerful play inside and the fact that he's one of the youngest players on the team, Lopez said his main role will be as a rebounder.

While Lopez knows his role, what he said may work against him and his teammates is their lack of playing time together. The Goodwill Games will be only the second tournament the team will have played together

"We know that we're probably the underdogs going into it. I mean, this is the first time in 10 years that our team has been invited to play in it," said Lopez of the Goodwill Games. "So we're going in with a chip on our shoulders. We want to go in and prove that we can play and show that we belong there."

Standing in the team's way on the first day of competition is the NBA's latest "Dream Team," made up of NBA players such as 2001 College Player of the Year, Shane Battier, 2001 NBA Rookie of the Year from the Orlando Magic Mike Miller, Los Angeles Laker Mark Madsen, Phoenix Sun Shawn Marion and Minnesota Timberwolf Wally Szczerbiak.

While he knows playing the U.S. team will be a trial by fire, Lopez thinks if things go right, the Mexican national team could pull an upset against the heavily favored U.S. team.

No matter what happens in the Goodwill Games, it will be the experience of playing against some of the world's best basketball players that Lopez thinks will prepare him for whatever his future holds.

"I think playing out there against that competition will increase my level of play," said Lopez. "Just by practicing with these teams, people have talked to me about playing after college.

"I'm pretty realistic about what's out there for me after college. Yeah, I'd like to play in the NBA, but realistically, I don't know if that's going to happen. I'm just going to play the best that I can and then go from there."

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