Nets' Lopez lets his game do the talking

Brook Lopez pulls down a defensive rebound during Brook Lopez pulls down a defensive rebound during a game against the Denver Nuggets. (Feb. 13, 2013) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Not long after Trent Johnson was named the men's basketball coach at Stanford in the spring of 2004, he hatched a plan.

During Stanford's summer camp, which was loaded with top high school prospects, Johnson was thinking of laying it on thick, going all out in a recruiting pitch to Brook Lopez and his twin brother Robin. With that being Johnson's first crack at chatting it up with the siblings, the last thing he wanted to do was blow it.

"So I had this big old speech prepared when those guys were about to come up, recruit them and have them come in the office and all that," Johnson, now coaching at TCU, told Newsday.

"Brook looks at me. I drop my sandwich. I'm talking about 15, 20 minutes at the most and he says, 'Coach' " -- Johnson's voice changes to a perfect Lopez impression -- " 'we're coming.' "

That's Lopez for you. Most times, he's short and to the point. When his mind is made up, he's not wavering. So Johnson could have saved his breath. No need to talk up his school until his cheeks turned Cardinal red. The Lopezes already were sold.

"I always wanted to go to Stanford," Brook Lopez said this past week, noting that he had previously been in contact with Johnson's predecessor, Mike Montgomery, who left for a job with the Warriors. "When Monty left, it was interesting for me to see who they were going to pick. Once I saw they picked coach Johnson, I was so comfortable going there."

Closing in on a decade later, Lopez can say the same thing about the NBA. He'll make his All-Star debut Sunday night in Houston, serving as an Eastern Conference reserve after rubbing elbows with some of the league's superstars all weekend.

"I'm very excited," Lopez said. "It's a huge honor."

Lopez has made a concerted effort to morph his game into that of an all-around center. He's the only player in the NBA currently averaging at least 19 points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game.

His scoring average is tops among centers, but it's his attention to defense and his desire to better protect the rim that have caught the eye of P.J. Carlesimo. The Nets' interim coach hopes Lopez returns from Houston with increased self-assurance.

"Almost everybody in their first All-Star Game comes back more confident," Carlesimo said. "You have to . . . it's different. When you go into the locker room, and the jerseys are hung up, and you look around, and the guys that are in that locker room are guys that you play against all the time. Now all of a sudden, you are on the same team."

Lopez's ascension to the All-Star ranks might have been accelerated if not for the one thing that's dogged him the last few seasons: injuries. After missing almost all of last season because of a pair of foot injuries, another foot ailment shelved Lopez for seven games this season.

Some may knock his recent lack of durability, but Johnson laughs at them. He points to something that happened in Lopez's early days at Stanford, when he got badly banged up while playing against NBA talent one summer.

"Brook plays through some pain," Johnson said. "I don't know if people realize, Brook, his freshman year he missed some games because he played like a whole summer with back problems. It was like a herniated disc. He was running around and played and didn't tell nobody.

"A lot of NBA guys would come through in the summer at Stanford and he went and played in that for like a week. He was hurt. He's strong as a mule now. That's the only thing I worry about because when he's hurt, he's hurt. He's really hurt and I told Avery [Johnson] that. You've got to watch him because he won't tell you nothing."

In other words, he's the same old Brook that Trent Johnson coached. He's just an All-Star now with a hefty contract. Other than the steady improvement in his game, nothing's changed.

"I'm happy for him," Johnson said. "He helped Stanford and he helped me more than anything. Here's what I mean by that: Kids always have the opportunity to listen or not to listen. Brook has always been very coachable, always listened. The good ones, and he's a good one, they have some stubbornness in them. He has that.

"But I'm happy for him."

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