Kid and Play

With college basketball season finally tipping off, we’re running a number of previously published print features that documented a current NBA player during his NCAA come-up. Below you can read a Brook Lopez piece—originally from SLAM 120—penned while the big man was hooping at Stanford, and you can find links to the other articles we’ve ran in this series at the bottom of this page.—Ed.

by Bonsu Thompson | @DreamzRreal

It’s challenging to take anyone born on April Fools Day seriously. Aside from April 1 being the date of NYC legend Mark Jackson’s birth and soul deity Marvin Gaye’s death, it’s pretty much been, historically speaking, just one 24-hour joke. So it’s no wonder that former Stanford standout/2008 NBA Draft breakout Brook Lopez was born on April 1 (’88). Watch Lopez on-court and you witness a technically adept tower of an athlete, but peep his off-court movements and you’ll notice he’s not as proficient. Converse with him and you’ll think you’re talking to a hemped-up surfer from Malibu instead of a future NBA center from North Hollywood. Thing is, the joke usually ends up being on Brook Lopez’ audience.

After overcoming back surgery before his ’06-07 freshman year at Stanford even began—Brook would miss the season’s first five games—to go on and average 12 ppg, 6 rpg and 1.7 bpg, Lopez would return to campus and miss the first nine games of his sophomore year even while 100 percent healthy. What happened was, despite earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 honors as a freshman, the sophomore decided to not only skip the semester’s first few classes but the season’s initial practices, resulting in an academic ineligibility suspension. Lopez’ excuse: He just didn’t want his summer to end. “I was just being lazy—it was completely on me,” he says from the California home he grew up in with twin brother and Stanford teammate Robin. “But since it was on me, it was up to me to get myself back on track: start going to classes and put as much effort as I can into basketball.”

But before you could finish yelling, “What the fuck is wrong with him…?” Brook, alongside Robin, transformed Stanford into a serious contender for the Pac-10’s No. 2 spot with sweeps of Washington State and Arizona and a split with OJ Mayo’s USC. Putting up 19, 8 and 2 for the season, the Cardinal’s 5 man helped his squad reach the Sweet 16. A thrilling ride for Brook, indeed, but the 20-year-old had little interest in going for a third go-round. So, three days after Stanford’s tourney exit, Brook and his bro sat down and decided they would forego their junior year for the League where most seven-footers go to get old. “The Pac-10 did a good job of somewhat giving you a glimpse of NBA basketball, with the caliber of post players from Kevin Love to Jon Brockman to Taj Gibson,” begins Brook, who goes a solid 7-0, 260 pounds. “But night in and night out you don’t really face guys that are your size or your skill level. I definitely think it was getting a bit easy.”

With Brook landing almost immediately in pretty much every mock-Draft’s starting lineup—Robin, on the other hand, was widely criticized for following his more talented brother into the Draft—it’s hard to find fault with his decision. So, what type of player will the NBA be getting?

The ambiguous big man’s reclined disposition will never get him mistaken for Moses Malone, but he does have the upside, skill-wise, to become Marcus Camby. Anyone who saw the upgrade in Brook’s game from frosh to soph knows that even though he already possesses a decent sheen of polish, it’s still an embryo of the paint force it could produce.

While Brook doesn’t sound all that convincing of his prospects, he knows as well as anyone that he is a good shot blocker and that his above-average mobility for a seven-footer helps him take his face-up jumper further and further from the rim. All this is why dude’s mind is more consumed with how his mental approach will translate at the next level. “I’m definitely gonna work on becoming a more intense player,” he says, addressing the criticism he’s received for fading in games. “Not so much with my emotions because I’ve worked on controlling my emotions when reacting to referees, but more so just giving it all I’ve got.”

So it appears that the Brook Lopez critics’ NBA concerns are shared by Brook Lopez. The giant knows he’s got to keep his head out of the clouds and remain focused on what lies ahead of him, whether that’s an opponent, a team playbook or his professional future. Accomplish that and he could possibly play more like his lifetime muse, Tim Duncan, than one of Stanford’s last twin centers, Jason or Jarron Collins.

Destiny’s road, however, couldn’t be traveled until Mr. Postman completed the former half of his student-athlete obligation to Stanford. How did Brook’s other sophomore averages turnout? “Ummm, I got an A in my fictional writing course. I also took Drawing 1 and got a B+ and my third course was…um, I don’t remember what it was [chuckles]. I think it was, like, Spanish, but um, I got an A in it [chuckles].”

He’s gotta be kidding.

Jason Kidd: Tricks Are For Kidd
Lamar Odom: Hard Knock Life
Dwyane Wade: Puttin’ In Work

LaMarcus Aldridge: Creepin’ On The Come Up
OJ Mayo: The Fresh Man
Stephen Curry: The Cool Kid