UT men's basketball walk-on Brandon Lopez getting shot as Trae Golden's backup

Tennessee guard Brandon Lopez (24) and Wichita State forward Jake White (50) go up for a rebound at Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee guard Brandon Lopez (24) and Wichita State forward Jake White (50) go up for a rebound at Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Tennessee men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin approached Brandon Lopez on Dec. 4, the day before a road game at Virginia.

The sophomore was unsure what was coming.

"You want some minutes as the backup point?" Martin asked.

It took Lopez a second to process. He's a walk-on, a 6-foot-1 reserve behind two scholarship point guards. His hesitation ended with an exclamation point.

"Yeah!" he replied.

And that's how Lopez — a Knoxville native, Austin-East grad, lifelong Vols fan — became Trae Golden's backup.

"It's pretty great," he said Monday, looking around Thompson-Boling Arena before practice.

Lopez played 10 minutes of garbage time as a freshman last year. He's played 12 "real" minutes in the Vols' past two games against UVA and Wichita State. Real minutes are expected tonight (TV: SportSouth, 7 p.m.) against Presbyterian.

Replacing freshman Armani Moore as Golden's backup, Lopez has yet to score or notch an assist. He's run the offense efficiently, though. Against Wichita, the offense started with five turnovers and two points on 1-of-4 shooting. Then Lopez checked in after the first media timeout. UT made three of its next four shots and committed one lone turnover in the next three minutes before he returned to the bench.

"He's is a point guard that's going to come down and get the ball where it needs to go and get us into the offense," said senior shooting guard Skylar McBee, who knows something about Lopez's ascent. Once a walk-on, McBee owns a team-high 1,789 career minutes played.

Lopez forced Martin's hand in order to earn playing time. He practices like it's Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He's as vocal as any Vol. He leads.

"B Lo approaches people in the right way," McBee said. "He knows the different ways that he can talk to different people. He's always positive so people respond to Brandon. He's always out here gutting it out."

"Whenever a guy is consistent in doing that, you have to give him an opportunity," Martin noted.

Lopez launched himself off the bench when "B Lo!" was yelled six minutes, 46 seconds into the Virginia game. His mind moved faster than the game. His feet moved faster than his mind.

"I just got in and hustled," Lopez said. "It's a lot faster — the ball is moving all over the place. It was easier to slow down in the Wichita game."

Lopez earned a career-high seven minutes against the Shockers. He played a key role in a victory against a ranked team in an arena he dreamt of playing in as a kid.

"When I came in the first half, I was like, 'Wow,' " he remembered, laughing.

While on the court, Lopez snuck a look over to Section 100. He shot a quick smile to two smiling faces.

"My momma and my grandmother were real happy," he said.

Injury Update: Tennessee's Kenny Hall is a game-time decision tonight versus Presbyterian (2-8). The senior forward strained a hamstring in last week's victory against Wichita State. According to 247Sports.com, McBee is currently playing through a UCL tear in his right elbow and will decide whether to have surgery after the season.

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn

Get Copyright Permissions © 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 18

VictorKruger writes:

Tough sledding for McBee. I had to Google UCL tear to find out what it is, and found out it is the baseball pitcher's injury that usually results in Tommy John surgery. I wonder if he got the injury from putting up so many shots or there was a single traumatic event that caused it. It certainly explains his shooting against Wichita State.

I would not mind seeing Yemi get a start if Hall can't go. I've liked Yemi from the beginning and he's earned it.

These next 2 games could be real confidence builders for Lopez and some of the new players. Win by 40 Vols!

JeanneClinton writes:

Brandon Lopez is an outstanding young man. I am so glad he is showing his leadership and determination.

Razor784 writes:

I knew McBee's shooting was way off from last year, a torn UCL would explain it

BruisedOrange writes:

The UCL keeps the inside of the elbow tight and in-line.

Imagine shooting the ball with your forearm wobbly in the lateral axis (left-to-right). Keeping your elbow "in" won't necessarily keep your forearm from wandering off at an angle.

There's also risk of dislocation if he falls and puts that arm out to brace himself.

Other symptoms:
- Elbow stiffness & inability to straighten the elbow
- Tingling or numbness in the two outside fingers and hand
- Weakness, loss of dexterity in hand grip

I'm neither sure how well Skyler can play this season, nor how long he will play this season. Story developing...

1vavolfan writes:

Good for Lopez and the right decision by CCM. If Skylar can't shoot due to the UCL then there is no need to play him, he only earns minutes due to his ability to make the 3.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I still hope our other guards pan out. but I like Brandon's play so far. Especially defensively. The start of the Wichy game was awful. I didn't notice it was Brandon who calmed us down. Our whole bench was just great in that game. Golden also was once he got goin'. This is just a hard working team when they choose to be.

I hate to hear about McBee's injury. Hall's is a bit scary too for our inside game. We'll be fine. I think Golden can handle extra minutes if he must but a dependable few minutes by Lopez will be great. Guards are very young too.

Speaking of young so is Stokes. He will only get better as his team gets more team-like.hehe

This game tonight is important for us. You can bet Pres. will come out giving it their all.

underthehill writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

I still hope our other guards pan out. but I like Brandon's play so far. Especially defensively. The start of the Wichy game was awful. I didn't notice it was Brandon who calmed us down. Our whole bench was just great in that game. Golden also was once he got goin'. This is just a hard working team when they choose to be.

I hate to hear about McBee's injury. Hall's is a bit scary too for our inside game. We'll be fine. I think Golden can handle extra minutes if he must but a dependable few minutes by Lopez will be great. Guards are very young too.

Speaking of young so is Stokes. He will only get better as his team gets more team-like.hehe

This game tonight is important for us. You can bet Pres. will come out giving it their all.

Makan, McRae, Brandon..all picked it up when they came in..Lopez adds speed on offense and defense..he can pressure the opposing point guard baseline to baseline..makes it more difficult for opponent to run half court offense..I liked what I saw when Brandon came in and expect to see Golden at shooting guard more..

jakethevolguy writes:

I don't think Lopez is a life long Vol fan. He didn't want anything to do with UT until CCM took over the team. I think he was headed to ETSU.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Lopez certainly handles the ball better than Moore..Rest Hall the next 2 games and cut Yemi loose

richvol writes:

in response to underthehill:

Makan, McRae, Brandon..all picked it up when they came in..Lopez adds speed on offense and defense..he can pressure the opposing point guard baseline to baseline..makes it more difficult for opponent to run half court offense..I liked what I saw when Brandon came in and expect to see Golden at shooting guard more..

Exactly...I was impressed with Lopez and his speed and he did calm down the offense early in the Wichita game. Looks like he could contribute valuable minutes during this season.

ball1523 writes:

in response to jakethevolguy:

I don't think Lopez is a life long Vol fan. He didn't want anything to do with UT until CCM took over the team. I think he was headed to ETSU.

its not that brandon didnt want anything to do with ut. ut just already had their guards lined up for that class. i talked to him before ut talked to him and i asked him about ut and it sounded like they were already loaded with guards. its when ccm came and chris jones decided to go elsewhere when that door opened for an invited walk on.

brod writes:

lopez has potential. he's no chris jones as far as point production but he can be an effective back-up.

Ayres_Hall writes:

I'd like to see Golden and Lopez on the court together. Golden is a scorer. With a good point, Golden would average 20+ per game.

aldntn writes:

I love walk on players. They bring intensity and desire and jack up the scholarship guys when they work themselves into the rotation.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

The UCL keeps the inside of the elbow tight and in-line.

Imagine shooting the ball with your forearm wobbly in the lateral axis (left-to-right). Keeping your elbow "in" won't necessarily keep your forearm from wandering off at an angle.

There's also risk of dislocation if he falls and puts that arm out to brace himself.

Other symptoms:
- Elbow stiffness & inability to straighten the elbow
- Tingling or numbness in the two outside fingers and hand
- Weakness, loss of dexterity in hand grip

I'm neither sure how well Skyler can play this season, nor how long he will play this season. Story developing...

Ouch! This is bad news both for Skylar and for the team if this is the deal. I'm glad to see Lopez get some run, but I'll be even gladder if he gains enough confidence to stick a couple of shots. Also hope Kenny doesn't develop a chronic problem with his hammy. Yemi needs to keep doing what he did against Wichita; they need him now more than ever. Also about time for guys like Cheivous, Moore, and Edwards to get on the stick; they have too much athletic ability not to have contributed more than they have. Still a couple of tough non-conference games to go, and as weak as the SEC looks these days, they will have to finish no worse than about third to be pretty sure of making the NCAAs.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Ayres_Hall:

I'd like to see Golden and Lopez on the court together. Golden is a scorer. With a good point, Golden would average 20+ per game.

I think we saw a bit of that combo when Wichita went to more pressure late in the game. We may see more of it if Skylar's effectiveness is as limited as we fear. The thing is, I'm not sure either of them is as good a defender as Skylar is. Not sure Golden can be quick enough over a whole game and Brandon is rather height-challenged.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Yazoo:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Well, a torn ligament in a shooter's shooting elbow will tend to hamper his stroke. Sounds like you have never been a Skylar fan.

Basketvol writes:

in response to Yazoo:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yes. He made several tonight as a matter of fact.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features