UT walk-on Brandon Lopez: 'I'm always gonna go hard'

Lopez makes the most out of walk-on status

Brandon Lopez drives around Jordan McRae during action in the finals of the Rocky Top Basketball League Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 in the CAK gym. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2013

Brandon Lopez drives around Jordan McRae during action in the finals of the Rocky Top Basketball League Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 in the CAK gym. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Brandon Lopez scored 14 points in the Rocky Top League championship game on Tuesday night. He sliced through the lane for layups, looped to the hoop for floaters and buried a 3-pointer. His team, the News Sentinel, outgunned Jordan McRae and Campus Lights, 107-97, at Christian Academy of Knoxville.

Despite playing the part of a catalyst, Lopez barely cracked a smile until it was over.

“I take basketball seriously,” the walk-on Tennessee sophomore said. “I don’t care if I’m playing in the Olympics or if I’m playing against my 5-year-old cousin, I’m always gonna go hard.”

Which is why Lopez, a Knoxville native and Austin-East High School graduate, is straight from central casting for the Vols.

The perfunctory role of the basketball walk-on is to be one-part mascot, one-part workhorse. It’s on a need-to-know basis: he needs to know there are 12 men ahead of him and the spotlight doesn’t have room for 13.

The routine is thankless. And the best walk-ons, the ones who thrive and wiggle into the rotation, are the ones who feed off that thanklessness.

Lopez ate well last season. Thanks to a blend of injuries and spotty point guard play, the 6-foot-1 grinder appeared in 17 games, logging 98 minutes.

“I thought I responded to my role well,” said Lopez, who scored five points, dished eight assists against nine turnovers in 2012-13. “I could have done more offensively and probably turned the ball over too much, but I did what I needed to do defensively and ran the team.”

And his play proved Lopez might, at a lower Division I level, be able to be scholarship player and log loftier playing time. He didn’t fill the box score, but he held his own in the SEC. Some walk-ons might have used those game tapes as a ticket out.

Not Lopez.

“I never gave it a thought,” he said. “I’m a Tennessee Vol. Coach (Cuonzo) Martin took me when no one wanted me. I’d never betray that.”

So Lopez will return in 2013-14 as a junior walk-on. The Vols welcome point guards Antonio Barton, a senior transfer from Memphis, and Darius Thompson, a skilled freshman from Murfreesboro. Those minutes that fell to Lopez as a necessity last season may not exist this time around.

“It’s cool with me,” he said. “It’s a character building thing and that’s my job. You’ve got to be mentally tough just to be a college athlete, but especially to be a walk-on.”

At the same time, there’s no predicting how Martin could react if things go awry next year.

After point guard Trae Golden was injured in a key late January meeting with Vanderbilt last year, Martin called down to the end of the bench. Lopez played 10 crucial minutes and dished three assists without a turnover.

“There’s no hesitancy about putting him on the floor, because he’ll be ready to play,” Martin said afterward.

Should the occasion arise again in 2013-14, Lopez fully intends to be ready once again.

“Being a walk-on,” Lopez said, “that’s just a title — that’s all. I’m here to make the team better.”

News Sentinel 107, Campus Lights 97: In front of a capacity crowd, McRae and former Vol Wayne Chism scored 51 points apiece in a back-and-forth duel. Chism was aided by 25 points from Galen Campbell for the News Sentinel. McRae, who averaged 44.5 points in six games, was named league MVP.

Choice Spine 105, DeRoyal Industries 97: Despite 33 points from UT’s D’Montre Edwards and 18 from A.J. Davis, DeRoyal Industries fell to Choice Spine in the consolation game.

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

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Comments » 26

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Brandon's awesome. I remember scoring on a drive in an intramural game in college. The ref was a walk-on for the Mocs. He actually complented my shot.lol I was thinking You play on a National ranked team and you thought I made a great shot! The guy may have made 2 or 3 baskets his whole career. But he was an awesome player to me.

Go get 'em Brandon.

LSG410EC83 writes:

If the rest of the guys on the team have an attitude and work ethic like Mr. Lopez, it is going to be one heck of a year. Enjoyed seeing the hustle you brought to the floor when you were put in last season. Your hustle was second to none in my book. Thanks for what you do for the team. Need more articles such as this. Can not wait for Basketball season. Got the ticket renewals in the mail yesterday(like putting a carrot in front of a horse) IT IS GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL. GO BIG ORANGE.

xanga writes:

dont go hard around me. i dont endorse doma

maciste54 writes:

Hey seeitthrough how about seeing your way out the door dumazz ?

maciste54 writes:

in response to xanga:

dont go hard around me. i dont endorse doma

What the heck does that even mean ?

maciste54 writes:

A feel good story about a good kid and the phooey for brains are out in full force. Lopez is a credit to his team. More college athletes should follow his example.

LSG410EC83 writes:

in response to maciste54:

A feel good story about a good kid and the phooey for brains are out in full force. Lopez is a credit to his team. More college athletes should follow his example.

Used to respond to the trolls. Finally decided to just suggest removal. Have to agree 100 percent about the example this kid is to others.

underthehill writes:

Good story..well deserved by a team player..not a me first guy..players like Brandon contribute far more than just what you see in games..

usafvol writes:

I suspect the trolls "seeitthrough and lsg410ec83" are either the same guy or two boys who share a toothbrush..

dillpic writes:

in response to SEEITTHROUGH:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Reading Comphrehension.......because a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

LSG410EC83 writes:

in response to usafvol:

I suspect the trolls "seeitthrough and lsg410ec83" are either the same guy or two boys who share a toothbrush..

How can you see my response to this article that of a troll. I have nothing but the highest regard for kids like Brandon Lopez. If you would do a little searching, have been on this site for quite a while. Usually have nothing but positive to say about my Vols. Graduated from the great University in 1983 with a BS in Agriculture and am a season ticket holder for basketball. Give me a reason for why you think I am a troll unless you took something I typed in a wrong way. LOVE MY VOLS.

usafvol writes:

in response to LSG410EC83:

How can you see my response to this article that of a troll. I have nothing but the highest regard for kids like Brandon Lopez. If you would do a little searching, have been on this site for quite a while. Usually have nothing but positive to say about my Vols. Graduated from the great University in 1983 with a BS in Agriculture and am a season ticket holder for basketball. Give me a reason for why you think I am a troll unless you took something I typed in a wrong way. LOVE MY VOLS.

My apoligies sir; I misread! I'll suggest removal of my post immediately.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to maciste54:

A feel good story about a good kid and the phooey for brains are out in full force. Lopez is a credit to his team. More college athletes should follow his example.

I agree. I would hate to imagine a set of circumstances in which Lopez would have to be "the man" at the point, but I know he will give it his all whenever he gets the chance. Anything he can do in practice to help the regulars get better is all to the good. If he is happy being at UT in this role, I'm glad we have him.

LSG410EC83 writes:

in response to usafvol:

My apoligies sir; I misread! I'll suggest removal of my post immediately.

No problem. Sorry if I came on a little strong. Have always backed the BIG ORANGE and always will. Now as for the other one, agree 100 percent.

usafvol writes:

in response to LSG410EC83:

No problem. Sorry if I came on a little strong. Have always backed the BIG ORANGE and always will. Now as for the other one, agree 100 percent.

Don't blame you at all; i'd be pissed if someone called me a troll as well! These punks get on here just to annoy folks and I get really defensive for our kids who are working their butts off for Vol Nation.

johnlg00 writes:

I would really like to know what Jordan McRae's shooting percentages were in the RTL. His raw numbers are Maravich-like, but I hope Jordan shot a better percentage than Pistol Pete did. I know there's not much defense played in that league, but those numbers would be impressive in an empty gym. I would also love know what his ball-handling was like. If he could cut down on the turnovers and charges on his drives, hopefully by using the pull-up mid-range jumper, his efficiency would go way up.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I would really like to know what Jordan McRae's shooting percentages were in the RTL. His raw numbers are Maravich-like, but I hope Jordan shot a better percentage than Pistol Pete did. I know there's not much defense played in that league, but those numbers would be impressive in an empty gym. I would also love know what his ball-handling was like. If he could cut down on the turnovers and charges on his drives, hopefully by using the pull-up mid-range jumper, his efficiency would go way up.

It sounded as if McRae and Chism worked together on the offense. If McRae can do that with Chism then he can with Maymon, Stokes , and Ndiaye.

I think we're ok this year. Especially since McRae won't be THE ballhandler. But I too hope for better drives and mid-range stuff. I don't expect as much one man lollygagging it up the court this time 'round.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

It sounded as if McRae and Chism worked together on the offense. If McRae can do that with Chism then he can with Maymon, Stokes , and Ndiaye.

I think we're ok this year. Especially since McRae won't be THE ballhandler. But I too hope for better drives and mid-range stuff. I don't expect as much one man lollygagging it up the court this time 'round.

Re: your first paragraph, I hope so, too. Sometimes it's hard for a talented, creative guy to find the right balance between taking advantage of small openings and running into a brick wall. A great player is alert for opportunities but keeps his options open until he is sure he has what he wants--that is when he explodes to the bucket or raises up a jumper in rhythm. When Jordan was going bad, especially earlier in his career, he seemed to make up his mind while standing on the arc that he was going to take it right to the hoop, no matter what. The key is to be ready to dart to that opening, but do so in a way that doesn't commit you too early to going all the way. Be great, but do so efficiently. That is what I meant about McRae emulating Durant.

gluesniffer writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

It sounded as if McRae and Chism worked together on the offense. If McRae can do that with Chism then he can with Maymon, Stokes , and Ndiaye.

I think we're ok this year. Especially since McRae won't be THE ballhandler. But I too hope for better drives and mid-range stuff. I don't expect as much one man lollygagging it up the court this time 'round.

the way i read it, they played against each other. yes?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to gluesniffer:

the way i read it, they played against each other. yes?

Upon rereading the story, I see that you are right--McRae and Chism were on opposing teams. I wonder who the post players were on Jordan's team and whether he had any real interaction going with him. One of Jordan's biggest challenges next season will be choosing properly between initiating his own offense and feeding the post. If he and Stokes and/or Maymon can get a little non-verbal communication going, it would be greatly to everyone's benefit.

bobbyal52#1417564 writes:

Brandon vs Dre,would have enjoyed that.Pass first point guards, that's how you get 51's.Brandon make your shots,you will play big minutes.Taking care of the ball was a glaring weakness,Lopez for limited play did good.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to gluesniffer:

the way i read it, they played against each other. yes?

Gee thanks. Now I'll have to re-read the whole thing. Anyhow I hope McRae can get the inside out thing going with whoever.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

P.S. Hmm I wonder if they changed the wording or something. When I read it the first time it seemed they were "dualing" together. Chism and McRae that is.
Oh well. chism vs. McRae then.

vol98champ writes:

As I posted after the first games; it sure would be nice to see an analysis of the games. Just points scored tell me next to nothing. Is it possible that this leagues play does more harm than good? Is Stokes wasting his time with the U19 team? Is Maymon close to 100%? Are Barton and Thompson together better than Golden? If no is the answer to the first 2 and yes the answer to the last 2 we can be conference champions. If the yes's and no's are reversed --------.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to vol98champ:

As I posted after the first games; it sure would be nice to see an analysis of the games. Just points scored tell me next to nothing. Is it possible that this leagues play does more harm than good? Is Stokes wasting his time with the U19 team? Is Maymon close to 100%? Are Barton and Thompson together better than Golden? If no is the answer to the first 2 and yes the answer to the last 2 we can be conference champions. If the yes's and no's are reversed --------.

Those are the kinds of things I would like to know also. My definitive answers to your cogent questions are, in order: possibly, possibly, hopefully, and probably. No wavering or shilly-shallying out of me(;-P)!

vol98champ writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Those are the kinds of things I would like to know also. My definitive answers to your cogent questions are, in order: possibly, possibly, hopefully, and probably. No wavering or shilly-shallying out of me(;-P)!

Sorry to take so long to reply, but your answers are "probably" very accurate. The summer league is "possibly" the reason we have started slowly the last two years. If the answer to all 4 questions are yes, CCM has his work cut out for him to get us ready for December. I'll take 4 yes's over 4 no"s any day.

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