Rebels basketball:

Carlos Lopez-Sosa out to finish what he started with UNLV

He’ll be a fifth-year senior next year, electing to stay at UNLV instead of transferring to another Division-I school

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Carlos Lopez-Sosa yells to fans during their game against Hawaii Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack. UNLV won 77-63

UNLV Runnin' Rebel Carlos Lopez-Sosa

UNLV forward Carlos Lopez-Sosa tries to get the crowd louder during their game against New Mexico Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV beat New Mexico 64-55. Launch slideshow »

Dave Rice went around the room, from player to player, asking each one if he was completely committed to the 2013-14 UNLV basketball season. When the coach came to Carlos Lopez-Sosa, whose minutes have gone down each season at UNLV, the junior forward didn’t have an answer. He was fielding interest from a few schools across the country and didn’t want to commit to something that he may abandon a week later.

“That’s not the type of guy I am,” Lopez-Sosa said before a workout last week.

That meeting with Rice and the remaining Rebels was March 31, a day before freshman Anthony Bennett made his tearful goodbye to the program. Lopez-Sosa was pretty sure of his decision back then but wanted to take time to really consider what coming back meant, how things would have to be different.

“It didn’t click (last season), and by the time we realized we were really in trouble, it was too late,” Lopez-Sosa said. “The guys who were supposed to be leading this team, they were not very good at it.”

Now Lopez-Sosa plans to be one of those guys, the only returning senior on a team that lost its two leading scorers in the wake of its fourth straight Round of 64 exit from the NCAA Tournament. While his role will develop during the offseason, Lopez-Sosa seems to fit as the backup center, behind Khem Birch and ahead of Demitris Morant and incoming freshman Chris Wood.

Because Lopez-Sosa redshirted his freshman season and he stayed on track to graduate in four years, he had the option of transferring to any Division I school and playing right away, as he enrolled in a graduate program not offered at UNLV. Quintrell Thomas had that option last year and chose to stay, something Lopez-Sosa said Thomas advised against multiple times during the year.

“‘Man, you have to leave,’” Lopez-Sosa said Thomas told him as both struggled to see the court in 2012-13.

Then there’s Mike Moser, who was notably absent from that Sunday night meeting. Moser is expected to use the same rule to finish out his career with one season at Washington, although Arizona is also a possibility and a family member said Moser hadn’t made up his mind. His decision can’t become official until he finishes classes at UNLV this summer.

The choice of sticking it out at UNLV, and thus completing an eight-year desert career that started on the original Findlay Prep team, or jumping somewhere else for a better opportunity boiled down to a three-hour conversation with his family, Lopez-Sosa said. Speaking with his mother and maternal grandmother, who both live in Puerto Rico, it became clear he would stay put.

“‘You have to finish what you started, no matter what,’” Lopez-Sosa said they told him. “‘I know you didn’t get the chance to play as much as you wanted last year, but you have a chance now to prove yourself and prove wrong the doubters.’ And believe me, there are a lot of people out there who don’t want to see me do well.”

Lopez-Sosa is acutely aware of people talking about him, which really doesn’t make him unique in the sports world. Every slight, real or perceived, is used for motivation, and that certainly fits Lopez-Sosa’s junior year narrative.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV forward Carlos Lopez-Sosa tries to get the crowd louder during their game against New Mexico Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV beat New Mexico 64-55.

When Moser returned from his elbow injury at the end of December, Lopez-Sosa donned the white and blue practice jersey that would define his role for the rest of the season. There were exceptions — most notably a 15-minute performance at home against New Mexico that earned him multiple rounds of applause (right) — but for most of the Mountain West season, Lopez-Sosa was a practice team player. His job was to make the other guys, those ahead of him on the depth chart, better.

Not surprisingly, he didn’t like it

“It came to a point where I said, ‘I’m done. I don’t want to practice, I don’t even want to be on campus. This is awful,’” Lopez-Sosa said.

What changed since then, and the reason UNLV coach Dave Rice said Thursday he’s “thrilled” to have Lopez-Sosa back, is that the 6-foot-11, 225-pound forward decided to own that role. He tweeted out his frustrations in mid-January, telling his followers that practices were now his games, and then he played like that.

“He practiced extremely well for us, particularly the last four to six weeks of the season,” Rice said.

The demotion came with a twist. While serving as a practice team player isn’t where anyone wants to be, it’s not without its benefits. After having to adapt his game to the next opponent’s center for three months — anything from Alex Kirk’s range to Colton Iverson’s relentlessness — Lopez-Sosa ended the year a more well-rounded player than he started it. He’s arguably a better ball-handler and definitely a guy to count on to go to the floor for a loose ball.

And that “What is he doing?” 3-point shot? Yeah, that’s now part of his repertoire as much as the pass-fake that’s still taught at Findlay. Lopez-Sosa had attempted (and missed) only one 3-pointer in his first two seasons before going 2-for-7 behind the arc this year. That means his attempts went from 1-in-215 as a freshman and sophomore to 1-in-6.3 as a junior.

That coincides with a big shooting percentage drop from 63.2 as a sophomore to 47.7 last year, though he took less than half the number of shots, too. He attempted more than one shot in a game only once since Jan. 9, rarely getting the opportunity to stay on the court long enough to attempt a second one if he had made the first.

That drop in playing time and production — 8.7 minutes, 2.2 points, 1.3 rebounds per game and seven games of no action in 2012-13 — is the reason no one would have been surprised if Lopez-Sosa went elsewhere for his last hurrah. Schools contacted his inner circle, Lopez-Sosa said, making him feel like a high school player getting recruited all over again.

Flattering aside, his conversations with family grounded him in the idea of sticking it out in Las Vegas. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Lopez-Sosa just passed his year anniversary dating Kaitlyn Thompson, a sophomore Rebel Girl. She wasn’t a part of the final process, Lopez-Sosa said, though the decision suggests he’s got his priorities straight.

But Thompson can’t guarantee Lopez-Sosa will be happy with his choice for basketball reasons. That falls on the player, who will try to prove himself worthy all over again.

“I didn’t ask (Rice) to make me any promises about playing time,” Lopez-Sosa said. “I just told him I wanted a fair shake based on play. If I deserve to play I should play.”

Is that how things will play out? Impossible to say. Lopez-Sosa seemed convinced in August that he wouldn’t be pushed to the end of the bench by guys such as Bennett and Khem Birch, yet that’s exactly what happened.

Lopez-Sosa said he didn’t feel like he got that fair shake last season, although he doesn’t hold it against anybody he’ll be playing with or for this upcoming year. In another example of how the demotion may have actually helped, he’ll go into next season commanding more respect from the teammates who saw him fall and then rise into a new role.

“These guys will follow me anywhere,” Lopez-Sosa said. “We have a great group of guys that just want to win. They’re hungry to win and that’s what we needed last year. We didn’t have that. We were more about individual goals and not about the team.”

In other words, Lopez-Sosa is about the team. Now he hopes to be a bigger part of it.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Wow. Carlos verifies what we all knew and saw by the way they played....no leadership & no collective unity. This isnt shocking news AT ALL...its just really refreshing to hear somebody tell the truth & not be afraid to call a duck a duck. Big time kudos to Carlos for having the guts to do it. THAT is a guy you can rally around aka A REAL leader who puts the team & winning first.

    Just goes to show...talent & coaching are important ingredients to winning, but so too are the intangibles. It is those intangibles that team leaders must possess in order to will their team towards reaching their potential. Something we havent had since KKruger & CTerry left. And we havent won a game in the tourney since them either. Can you say "connect the dots?"

  2. Glad to know we have someone honest and glad to know a play say the same issue we saw. Glad to know we are not stupid. Now, let's pray CDR reads this article.

  3. Great article, and I really commend Carlos for sticking it out and for having a great change of attitude. He seems like he will definitely be the leader we were missing last year.

    I just hope his attitude stays positive throughout the year. He said he was optimistic at the beginning of last year, but then his attitude changed as he moved further down the depth chart. I definitely hope he sees the floor more this year, as I really like his intangibles and I think he has improved as a player each year, but if he does happen to fall behind a couple of guys on the depth chart, let's hope he keeps the positive attitude and continues to be that inspirational leader that this team desperately needs.

    Of the guys who left the team this off-season, I am guessing it was QT, AB, and perhaps MM who were the guys concerned "more about individual goals and not about the team."

    AM may not have been the best leader, but to me he was always a guy who did whatever he could for the team. Same with J-Hawk. He stunk it up his senior season, but I always really liked his attitude.

    QT telling Carlos multiple times that he needed to leave the program is terrible. I understand guys want to play, but that is definitely an example of a guy with a me-first attitude. Glad he graduated and is moving on. Same with AB. Best of luck to him in the league, but I definitely questioned his attitude and effort at times last season--even when we were winning--which is another sign of a guy more concerned with his own numbers than with wins and losses. As for Moser, I never got a sense of whether he was more me-first or team-first; it just seemed he lacked confidence after the injury and never got back to the same player as he was the previous year. But if he is not 100% committed to being a Rebel, and he is now on to his 3rd collegiate team, then that leads me to believe he is more concerned about himself than the team as well.

    I hope Carlos is right in that the group of guys we have now really want to be here, really want to win, and care more about the four letters on the front of their jersey than the name and number on the back.

  4. From what I saw, Anthony Bennett was one of the most team oriented guys on the court. Was the asthma a factor a couple of times? it appeared so. Did he make a few bad decisions? All freshman do. Off the court, I can't call it. I don't know the kid.

    We can all agree, the guys that were supposed to be the leaders of this team (Moser, Marshall, Hawkins, and to a lessor extent QT) did a poor job. I look forward to seeing Birch, Lopez, and BDJ take on more active leadership roles.

  5. Jerry: We kept hearing how AB was a team guy and saw several instances where he was cheering for them from the bench but, than again, he seemed to pout on the court and take plays off when things weren't going his way so I was never really sure about his "teamness".

  6. @YE - You make me laugh. Dave Rice knows much more about the team than we do because he's with them during the season and behind closed doors.

    On a side note, I hope Dave Rice doesn't let Mike Moser transfer to Arizona if that's even a place where he's considering.

  7. I think we can all understand his frustration. Not much fun to sit on the bench and not be a major part of the team. Especially when you truly believe(correct or not)that you can help the team. I would fully expect his role to increase next year as I do not think that Morant or Wood are physically ready for major minutes down low in the Mountain West. I also do not think that QT telling Carlos to transfer is a big deal either. Quintrell is obviously a friend who was in a similar situation and saw how unhappy Lopez-Sosa was. Does not mean that QT is not a team guy. His play for three years shows you that he was, and his actions coming back to play also demonstrate that. As far as a lack of leadership is concerned, it was most likely a combination of many factors. Great freshman and transfers coming into a program that already had proven players and the fight for playing time can make alot of players unhappy with their roles and things can begin to get difficult. In all the games I saw, however, I thought the comraderie of the team was very good. Nobody looked like a malcontent or bad actor. Sometimes things just do not work out as planned. Way to go Carlos. Glad you are staying to finish what you started.

  8. I have no problem with QT telling him that he should leave last year. I would have probably told him the same thing. He was obviously the odd man out. This upcoming season, it is completely different. AB leaving was a no brainer. But Moser was not. There are a lot of minutes to be had and I think CLS will be a regular contributor.

    QT was the ultimate team player last year. He worked hard on the offseason, did not demand minutes, and always played hard and consistent whenever he was on the floor. I am sad to see him go.

  9. Hard to tell what makes things click for people. For Carlos, looks like him learning that he needed to earn his minutes, rather than have them given to him, finally made things click for him towards the end of the year.

    I hope he continues taking elements from the successful games of others, keeps his new found chip on his shoulder, and has a great season next year.

  10. @ gumby2323, htownreb: I agree with your comments about QT and the team camaraderie. Mike's injury compounded by his move to the 3 spot, I believe, debilitatingly affected his season (his early season numbers and effectiveness were pretty good playing at the 4). I think Mike is a great Rebel - a tough, relentless, hard worker on both ends of the floor, and a seemingly good attitude - and if him looking at his role on the Rebels next season looks like one as a sub, I think it is wise for him to go to a school that will allow him to get the time and exposure he deserves, that would allow him to regain his standing as an NBA draftee.

  11. Lopez talks like he should play, but then he never boxes out for any rebounds and he stands watching a lot on defense. We'll need him for 5-10 minutes a game but I hope he doesn't expect to play anymore than that. It would be great to see him grab a rebound once in awhile.

  12. Read between the lines the NBA draft is the goal. Players in many college programs are only focused on this even if they say they are committed. If your boss asked you the same question are you going to say NO! The NCAA needs to have a rule for this where a player has to commit at least 2 years and finish their classes of 2 years before they can transfer or leave the program to go pro. No Agents in the wings waiting for fresh meat to handle. The coaches now only build one year programs and then scramble for replacements the next year doing damage control how are they going to build a program around that sure Duke Michigan Syracuse Kentucky Kansas and etc have good teams every year because of the record of players they produce for the NBA so why would not a player go there if given a chance it just puts them more on the screen for the NBA draft. The real looser are the fans and students who commit to these programs and have the rug pulled out from underneath them.

  13. @DocRebel - Agreed 100%. Does he even know how to rebound or Defend? Has he ever blocked a shot in a game? Personally, he should've took QT's advice & moved on. Team player or not, he won't see the court. I watched him all "4" years @ FP & he dominated due to competition. His true colors came out after he stepped on campus.

  14. If you are going to restrict an individual the right to earn money (still very few make it to an NBA tryout, and fewer yet actually make NBA rosters), then you need to remunerate players for having to attend college. The NCAA is a feeder system to the pro leagues in this country, yet it is the NCAA and their members that seem to do most of the feeding. I think a sensible step for the NCAA and pro leagues to take, would be like the one MLB has. Let leagues draft high school players and college players; then let the players decide whether they want to stay amateur or go pro, based on what is best for each individual.

  15. If MM transferred to UOA, it should be blocked. Old rivalry, got a home and home next year coming up, IMO block-worthy. If CDR does not want to do it, hire Bo Ryan to do so.

  16. Pardon my ignorance of this issue, but does Coach Rice have a say in whether Mike transfers or not? From what I've read (not much on the subject), it seems the player gets to make that call. Please inform, thanks.

  17. Moser isnt going to AZ....they're even more talent laden than we are at the 3 & 4 spots. The only remote possibility is if Grant Jarrett turns pro...which he is stupidly considering...then there might be a spot for him. But even then he'd have to share time with Ashley from Findlay Prep, 5 star recruits Aaron Gordon & Rondae Jefferson. Plus Miller is a defense first coach. If you dont D up hard every time down the floor... you dont play. Period. That is the LAST place Moser should go. If he wants big minutes & a green light to showcase his game....it aint there.

  18. I think he'll get consistent minutes next year. He'll probably get 10-15 minutes depending on the night. Lopez-Sosa is good in the post, and they can run the offense through him. He's the best passing big UNLV has had in a while. He can also score effectively in the post. He'll have to improve his rebounding. It told the whole story when he was too scared to box out Colton Iverson for a rebound.

  19. Rebounding is effort really. I am sure CLS knows how to box out.

  20. I'd would have liked to been in that locker room. I could imagine Rice asking players if they are commited to his poor excuse of coaching for another year. I don't blame any player for leaving and anyone knows it's because of Rice . Aint that right Phillips?

  21. Great article and he is a fine person I met him once before a game.

  22. Yes... the choice Mike's in this case - not Rice's. I believe there are some intra-league transfer rules that might prevent him from transferring to a MWC team, but not 100% on that. Rice doesn't even have a scholarship available for Mike anymore, which means UNLV holds no cards. Regardless, I have NO DOUBT that Rice wants only what's best for Mike, and will help him achieve such. If AZ is best for him, Rice will help him get there.

    As far as Carlos... Go get'em, brother! Fight for it. Be a leader, and overcome the critics!

    There are a lot of us that will be there cheerin' for ya, man!

  23. Good Article. I did like the honesty in the article, but it was not anything any fan didn't already know. Most people could tell that the team last year was playing more as indidual players than as a team. The few times they did play as a team they looked great. The sad thing is this. If they would have played as a team then it makes all of them look better and players like Moser would probably be in the draft instead of looking to play for a third team, and don't tell me that NBA people didn't notice AB's lack of intensity. He will still prob go high in the draft based on his ability, but try that in the pros and your out.
    Good luck Lopez, glad you stayed and hope you have a great senior year.

  24. @rebelgrad95; thank you for the clarification.

  25. @fedup2here (Kenny Rogers) - Haha! Thanks for the constant entertainment over the past six months. Mike Moser would have to compete for minutes with 5-6 other players. It makes absolute sense for him to transfer. It wouldn't matter who the coach is.

  26. Coaches can come up with a list of schools that the player can not transfer to. Many times they are inter-conference schools, inter-state schools, and rival schools.