U-turn by Brandon Lopez turns into preferred walk-on

A-E guard is excited by opportunity at UT

Austin East's Brandon Lopez, left, takes a shot through Alcoa's Steven Isom, front, and Kenny Deon on Saturday, February 26, 2011 at Alcoa High School. Alcoa beat Austin East 59-57 in the Region 2-AA quarterfinal game.

Photo by Chad Greene

Austin East's Brandon Lopez, left, takes a shot through Alcoa's Steven Isom, front, and Kenny Deon on Saturday, February 26, 2011 at Alcoa High School. Alcoa beat Austin East 59-57 in the Region 2-AA quarterfinal game.

Though he had a 3.9 grade-point average, Brandon Lopez was staring junior college right in the face.

Division I basketball options for the Austin-East High School senior point guard had dried up a few weeks back, and he didn't want to attend a prep school.

But the Tennessee men's basketball staff liked the 6-foot-1 Lopez and offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on.

Lopez officially accepted Monday night. He knew a while back he would do so.

"I just really didn't tell anybody," said Lopez.

He allowed good friend, Central point guard Dre Mathieu, to release the news late Monday night on Twitter. Once the word got out, Lopez finally could release his joy.

"I haven't been this excited in a while," he said. "It's a blessing, the opportunity to play in front of my hometown and friends and family at a university I grew up watching and admiring."

Lopez had a monster senior season, averaging 25.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists. He was committed to Southern University, but that changed when its coaching staff was cleared out.

Wofford showed interest after the season but landed another point guard.

Lopez started talking with new Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin and assistant Kent Williams about two to three weeks ago.

"Coach Williams came down to watch me work out," said Lopez. "I talked to the (Tennessee coaches). They were friendly. They seemed like they wanted me to come."

Fulton standout Galen Campbell, a 6-3 wing who chose to walk-on at Tennessee under the previous coaching staff, has had talks with the current staff.

"He's like a brother to me," said Lopez. "He's one of my best and closest friends. We played AAU together for three years.

"He knows my style. I know his style. We'll click right off the bat."

Lopez found emotional shelter from a taxing recruiting process from Austin-East coach Charles Mitchell, his mother Barbara Ligon and friends in Team B.O.D. (Ball or Die) - a group of area basketball players committed to putting Knoxville basketball on the map.

Now it's all about solo preparing for college ball.

"I'm getting up shots, probably between 600-800 a day," said Lopez. "I run and lift weights and work on my defense."

Playing in the Pilot Rocky Top League the last two years gave Lopez confidence and a good indication of what to expect from his future teammates and fans.

"I know they're strong and physical," he said. "(But) they would share the ball with me, even though I was still in high school. They were real cool. Real good teammates.

"I liked playing in the Rocky Top League. The fan base was crazy. I could tell they were die-hard Vol fans. That's what I liked about it."

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Comments » 16

VolnTex writes:

in response to wvol1:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Or maybe he doesn't have a Twitter account and doesn't feel the need for one? Or maybe he doesn't have a smart phone or a computer? He had someone else Tweet it for him and you make it a matter of character? It seems to me it could be interpreted as less self-absorbed because he let someone else share the news instead of tooting his own horn. I think you're the self-absorbed one.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to wvol1:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I take it to mean he is too humble to trumpet his own horn. You assume a lot about someone you don't know.

easleychuck writes:

Some people seem to have it all figured out. I have never met this kid so I will not make an uninformed decision about how he conducts his business technologically speaking.

Good luck to him on the hill.

VolFanNC writes:

I like the comment about putting up 600-800 shots per day. Basically he was a >60% FG shooter in HS and >50% in 3's.

Fits the same mold that Cuonzo is looking for in players in heart. Glad to see him walking on, even if he doesn't contribute right away, maybe will help some players with work ethic.

dcap8424 writes:

in response to wvol1:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You don't know who does and doesn't have twitter accounts anymore than I do. Generalizing that all senior basketball players have twitter accounts and are self-absorbed is just silly.

Volumnus writes:

Very good! Now Coach Martin has my attention. This is a move Pearl and Co. would never have made.
We don't need Mickey D AA's, just good solid committed Vols!

smokeyvol1 writes:

in response to wvol1:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

If your lucky he will let you tweet about him recieving his doctorate degree. By the way, what was your GPA coming out of High School? If he never sets foot on TBA I'll bet he is more successful than you are.

TheOpinion writes:

VFL...VFL...VFL...Vol For Life...Vol For Life...Vol For Life. Man that has a good ring to it. Its going to be a great recruiting tool for us.

steph3474 writes:

He will get plenty of scholarship money, just not from the athletic department. Good for him!

GR82BaTennesseeVOL writes:

in response to wvol1:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You, sir, are simply dead wrong. I DO know Brandon personally, and you couldn't possibly be more off-base with your thoughts and ignorant comments. In addition to being a highly talented ball-player, Brandon is an excellent student and a leader among his peers (on the court AND off). As a teacher at Austin-East High School, I feel highly qualified to say so.

I've spoken with Brandon personally about his decision and the kid is absolutely stoked to be a Vol. Yes, he did have scholarship offers to other schools, but he chose to take walk-on status to EARN his spot at UT. As a Vol fan, and knowing Brandon, I am absolutely stoked that he will be a part of my beloved Big Orange!

You really should think twice before you slander somebody about whom you know nothing.

GR82BaTennesseeVOL writes:

in response to Volumnus:

Very good! Now Coach Martin has my attention. This is a move Pearl and Co. would never have made.
We don't need Mickey D AA's, just good solid committed Vols!

I agree strongly with this sentiment. I would rather have a JaJuan Smith, a Skyler McBee, or a Brandon Lopez than a temperamental, pouty, entitled Scotty Hopson anyday.

Scotty was overrated and underachieving, while J. Smith, McBee, and Lopez are underrated and overachieving. I'll take a team-full of the latter over the former in a heartbeat!

(Please see Butler, SDSU, etc. for examples. Even Duke--although their players are admittedly highly-rated--doesn't have [m]any divas like Scotty; Coach K just wouldn't put up with it.)

TennVol01 writes:

"he had a 3.9 grade-point average"

A true student athlete. He could give Tyler Summitt a run for academic player of the team. Welcome to the team Brandon.

deputy658 writes:

I like this kid just because his blood runs ORANGE. I think he will be very successful on and off the court. GO VOLS !!!!!!!!!

iowavol writes:

in response to VolnTex:

Or maybe he doesn't have a Twitter account and doesn't feel the need for one? Or maybe he doesn't have a smart phone or a computer? He had someone else Tweet it for him and you make it a matter of character? It seems to me it could be interpreted as less self-absorbed because he let someone else share the news instead of tooting his own horn. I think you're the self-absorbed one.

Well said. Totally agree with your conclusions. Sounds like a good kid and for someone to go off on him with unbridled conjecture is sad.

sfox writes:

Hey I agree with the posts about not pre-judging someone you don't know. Those pre-judging surely are not UT grads. Thanks AE teacher for your post. Give the kid a chance! Sounds like a VFL to me. Mr. Harris should take note. Value your education Mr. Harris. Too much emphasis is placed on how much money he can make turning pro.

Hoops43 writes:

in response to GR82BaTennesseeVOL:

You, sir, are simply dead wrong. I DO know Brandon personally, and you couldn't possibly be more off-base with your thoughts and ignorant comments. In addition to being a highly talented ball-player, Brandon is an excellent student and a leader among his peers (on the court AND off). As a teacher at Austin-East High School, I feel highly qualified to say so.

I've spoken with Brandon personally about his decision and the kid is absolutely stoked to be a Vol. Yes, he did have scholarship offers to other schools, but he chose to take walk-on status to EARN his spot at UT. As a Vol fan, and knowing Brandon, I am absolutely stoked that he will be a part of my beloved Big Orange!

You really should think twice before you slander somebody about whom you know nothing.

I agree 100%. I coached Brandon in the Rocky Top League and he has a great attitude that any coach would love. I spoke with him yesterday and he is already hard at work both on the court and in the weight room. He has the talent, drive and intelligence that has and will continue to serve him well both on and off the court.

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