The sight of Carlos Lopez-Sosa standing in front of the bench in his warmups applauding teammates and trying to ignite the crowd has become an indelible image for UNLV fans.
Visions of him actually playing basketball on the court, fighting for loose balls and spinning defenders’ heads with pass fakes, may seem more like distant memories at this point.
The Rebels junior forward has seen his minutes decrease in each season to a career-low 8.7 per game.
Through it all, the Findlay Prep product has maintained an upbeat attitude as he has helped encourage his teammates to another NCAA Tournament appearance.
“It’s been a weird season for me, but I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my teammates out,” the 22-year-old said. “If that means cheering for my teammates, that’s what I’m going to do. If that means giving them a hard time during practice, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m just here for the team and to make the best out of it.”
His positive attitude has also translated to quality minutes and positive production on several occasions when his presence has been needed on the floor.
“His attitude has been fantastic. Every time I’ve called upon him, whether it was three minutes against Colorado State in the conference tournament or 15 minutes when we beat New Mexico, he has responded,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “He plays hard, he plays hard in practice, and he’s a great team guy. He’s a good player, and he provides energy and leadership.”
In addition to his enthusiasm, Lopez has been important as a leader and mentor for some younger players who despite immense talents, haven’t been through the rigors of a Mountain West season or an NCAA Tournament.
He said he had some simple advice to receptive teammates this week.
“Turn the phones off,” he said. “Every distraction is huge. You only get one game, 40 minutes of basketball. It goes by fast. The last two times, we weren’t ready to play in the first half, and then we had to try to come back. You only get one chance.”
It could potentially be the final opportunity for Lopez-Sosa to find NCAA Tournament success with the Rebels. He has one more year of eligibility, but will graduate from UNLV in May with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies.
Lopez-Sosa could theoretically explore transferring somewhere else to play his senior season as a graduate student, similar to what Kevin Kruger did when he came to UNLV to play for his dad in 2006. He could also choose to pursue a professional career, or simply move on with his life.
Lopez-Sosa, however, sounds committed to returning to play for UNLV while starting a graduate program or pursuing a second degree.
“I can tell you this, I want to end up as a Rebel. I have Runnin’ Rebel blood running through my veins. I want to finish my career here,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen after the season, but I’m a Rebel.”
That might be surprising to UNLV fans who followed Lopez-Sosa on Twitter early in the season. Some of his posts led to a great deal of speculation that he was disappointed with his diminished role.
“That was all overblown. That’s the bad thing about social media. People can translate whatever you say in a negative way,” he said. “I got away from Twitter a little bit. People are going to think whatever they want to think, and other people are just going to hate. You’re always going to have that segment of people that’s going to try to bring you down. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m so positive, because there’s so many people around that want to bring you down. You just have to keep a positive mind through it all.”
■ NOTES — The Rebels will practice at the Mendenhall Center today before leaving for San Jose. … UNLV is inviting fans to a rally in the Thomas & Mack Center parking lot, where the team bus will depart at approximately 4:45 p.m. for McCarran International Airport.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.
ZAGS NO. 1 IN FINAL POLL
Gonzaga’s first stint on top of The Associated Press college basketball poll lasted through the final Top 25 of the regular season.
The Bulldogs (31-2), the fourth of the four top seeds in the NCAA Tournament, were a runaway No. 1 for a third straight week Monday, receiving 45 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel.
Gonzaga become the first school from a non-BCS conference to finish No. 1 in the poll since Massachusetts of the Atlantic 10 in 1996.
Louisville, the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, is second and got the other first-place votes. Kansas and Indiana — the other No. 1 seeds — are third and fourth, followed by Miami, Duke, Ohio State, Georgetown, Michigan State and Michigan.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS