Skip to comments.TRUE LIES - "Rick Lopez and his Colorado Hoopsters"
Posted on 01/25/2005 9:54:28 PM PST by Bayou City
TRUE LIES - "Rick Lopez and his Colorado Hoopsters"
By Eric Adelson
Jan. 31 2005
He called himself the god of basketball, and they believed. He shouted and stomped on the sideline, then smiled when his team's lead hit 40, 50, 60 points. His girls weaved like Ferraris on a road course and bit back smirks as boys on opposing teams cried or stewed or simply sighed. He drew plays in the air with his fingers, and the girls learned them so well they could win games without any coach at all. His sport's biggest icons - Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer - lined up to praise his players and raise their hopes for college scholarships.
He tracked 80 girls at once and knew instantly if anyone in his hardwood domain had cracked a smile or shifted a pivot foot. He preached good things -respect, schoolwork, hard work, clean living - and molded his players into a giggly family only the very special could join. He promised that if they remained devoted, he'd deliver them to the finest campuses. Parents circled around him to bestow their deepest thanks and most generous Christmas bonuses.
For 12 magical years, hundreds of men and women in Denver and throughout Colorado worshiped the god of basketball and his legions of dribble-driving disciples. They believed in him, and each other, and in everything they built together.
BARBARA WALTERS believed. She believed right from the beginning. And this is no bubbly soccer mom here, no dreamy Oprahphile. Walters is a 58-year-old Broncos die-hard who nurtured four sports-fiend sons and one pit bull of a daughter. Keirsten Walters was playing football with her older brothers by age 5. She had a cannon for a softball arm, pistons for legs and enough moxie to make Mom tread lightly. Barbara never could put Keirsten in her place. Nobody could.
Except a brown-eyed coach in a cap.
Rick Lopez had dreamed of coaching his own team ever since he drew up imaginary plays for the Nuggets as he sat in class at his West Denver elementary school. One of four kids from a working-class family Dad was a salesman, Mom was a homemaker he got some floorburns as a guard for his high school team in the mid-1980s. But he didn't get a shot at his dream until 1992, at age 24, when a parent needed a coach for the new Colorado Hoopsters girls club team. Soon after, Lopez spotted a 12-year-old blond dervish on the court and thought, I've never seen a girl so quick. It wasn't long before Keirsten was running over to Barbara to ask, "Mom, can I play for the Hoopsters?" Sure, Keirsten. Sure you can.
Rick coached girls like boys yelling, tweaking, challenging in ways no one else dared. No excuses, no boo-boos, no crybabies. Keirsten ate it up. Within a year she and the Hoopsters, in ratty T-shirts and black shorts, ran all the crazy plays Rick had waited his whole life to try, even going 151 in a boys league. The program blew up as girls ages 12 to 18 joined in droves. In the summer of 1993, players sold concessions out of the trunk of Rick's car to raise money to get to a tournament in Arizona. Two of the three Hoopsters entries won titles, including the 14-and-under squad led by the feisty point guard.
The Hoopsters roster ballooned to 80 in a little more than three years, as Rick continued to preach backscreens and floor spacing. At one tourney in Washington, DC, Stanford head coach VanDerveer even asked to borrow an inbounds play. Keirsten dropped softball and practiced with the Hoopsters every night, staying late before catching a ride home with the coach. Finally she'd found someone to push her. Barbara wondered aloud if maybe her daughter had gone overboard. Mom, Keirsten shot back, do you love your job? Well, I love my job too, and it's basketball.
Barbara eased off. Keirsten had enough trouble with the catty girls at school who razzed her for having no life. And then there were those jealous parents who dished about the blonde and the young, cute coach. Even Keirsten's former coach warned Barbara, saying she'd heard Rick had a past. But when Barbara asked an investigator at the law firm where she worked to run a search on Rick Lopez, he came back with a report detailing a single traffic ticket. Some past.
Anyway, how could anyone dislike this shy, kind man? Rick did so much for the girls, and for almost no pay. Though he had money troubles - he filed for bankruptcy in 1993 - he still bought the poorer players shoes and took them to McDonald's. On one stormy night in the fall of 1995, Keirsten asked Mom if the coach could crash at their house, because he still had a long drive home. Of course, Barbara said, it's the least we can do. Soon Rick came by every now and then, watching tube with the family, taking out the trash and threatening to bench Keirsten when she mouthed off to her parents. When the Walters moved south from Arvada to Littleton later that year, Rick got a couch in the basement. He became Barbara's fifth son.
If only the gossips knew the guy the way Barbara did. How about that woman who came up to her after a tournament game to accuse Keirsten - and Barbara herself! - of fooling around with Rick? The nerve. It wasn't hard to see through that one: Keirsten's new high school team had throttled the squad from Arvada, and this woman just couldn't deal. Then there were the fans seated behind Barbara at a game in Boulder. "There's No. 23!" they said. "She sleeps with the coach, and her mother knows about it!"
Barbara burned. How could they possibly know better than she did? The man lived in her house! He was embarrassed to take off his shirt around the pool, and he never set foot on the floor where Keirsten slept. As for Keirsten ... well, she'd put him in his place real fast if he ever tried anything.
Oh, and by the way, Barbara had never seen her daughter happier. She was playing in almost 100 games a year and signing autographs for little girls in the stands. She piled up more A's than a carton of batteries, and spent her free time sorting through the dozens of recruiting letters that flooded the mailbox.
Rick hung with his star throughout the recruiting process, including that night late in 1997 when he joined the Walters as they met Auriemma at a fancy restaurant in nearby Golden. Two years off his 1995 undefeated season, the UConn coach poured wine for Barbara and cracked jokes with Rick. Mom had her heart set on Vanderbilt, but she couldn't deny Ms. Colorado Basketball the chance to join Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tamika Williams and Asjha Jones in the best recruiting class women's college basketball had ever seen. Keirsten left for Storrs the next fall.
Meanwhile, Rick moved in with another Hoopsters family. He had a Nike sponsorship, Geno on speed dial and a growing list of Division I alumnae. The god of basketball had arrived.
TARAH LAPAR believed. Why wouldn't she? By the time she joined Rick's crew as an eighth-grader in 1998, he had two teams good enough to fast break through prestigious tournaments and meet in an all-Hoopsters final one team playing without a coach. One California couple rented an apartment in Denver for the summer just so their daughter could get a chance to play for the master. Each family paid Rick $25 per month per kid, an endearingly small fee for a wealthier class of people than the college dropout ever dreamed of running with. He had no time to spend money anyway, not with more than 100 girls chasing a dream. Tarah happily grabbed her ticket to ride.
When Rick Lopez talked, he got the attention of his players.She liked Rick. Whenever a new hip-hop song blared, he challenged her to name the artist faster than he could. One time, Tarah bragged at a party that she had serious rhythm.
This pasty redhead? No way. Then she busted a move and nodded righteously. All the girls roared. When Rick heard about it, he proclaimed Tarah one-eighth black. Belly laughs all around. From then on, she became his "little one-eighth." Wherever hip-hop played - in hotel lobbies, restaurants, at amusement parks - Rick shouted, "I love Tarah LaPar!" Tarah loved him right back.
All the girls did. Rick made funny faces and dressed up for Halloween and dived fully clothed onto Slip'n Slides at backyard barbecues. He was a regular Peter Pan, secure enough to get manicures and profess his love for Notting Hill. Who wants to pass notes to boys when this cool guy wants to spend his time with you?
Tarah's teenage body and moods roiled. She hated her parents sometimes and hated herself sometimes and wanted so badly to be sure of herself. Rick was sure. After practices, he had the girls sit down at center court, take off their shoes and look him in the eye. Act like ladies and respect your folks, he said. Keep your noses in the books. Avoid smoking and drinking and boys. There are no captains here. We're all sisters.
Of course, some sisters had more potential than others. Like that one lanky blonde Rick would point to and say, "This is what coaches want." When Tarah heard that, she started to do crunches every night so the coaches would want her, too. And when Rick said, "Who's gonna make me dinner? All I got is Top Ramen," Tarah asked her folks to invite him over for lasagna.
Lots of families had the coach over for dinner. Moms adored him, all but elbowing each other aside to offer a piece of gum or some medical advice. Some went out with him for drinks after curfew at tournaments and picked up the tab, laughing as Rick regaled them with stories from the recruiting trail.
Dads couldn't help but admire Rick's success, even as some cringed at his methods. They sure couldn't call girls "dumbass" or "idiot" or tell them to lay off the cheeseburgers and still get them to fall in line.
Yes, Rick could be a wrathful god. He'd chuck a ball at a girl's head and know he'd get no lip from her mom or dad. Rick drew plays on girls' legs, for chrissakes, and then they'd run out there and execute them perfectly. He broke clipboards and smashed a trophy and bragged about making every girl cry at least once. But college practices would be much rougher, right? ......
TWO DAYS before Christmas, Rick Lopez calls a friend from jail. He wants to listen to a women's college game, and asks her to put a phone up to the radio. Clutching the receiver, he listens as the girl from the tape moves on without him. The god of basketball has no more believers.
The day after Christmas, Rick calls his dad and asks about his mom, who's been struggling with diabetes. He then walks to his cell, feeds a torn bed sheet through the slits in a vent and wraps the other end around his neck. He leans his back against the wall and lets himself fall limp.
On the foggy first Monday of the new year, dozens of girls from every Hoopsters generation show up at 9 a.m. at West Denver's St. Cajetan Catholic Church. Keirsten Walters, now a young woman of 24, breaks down as she approaches the silver casket that cradles her old friend. Barbara holds a poem she wrote about the Rick she knew, and fights the urge to brush his hair as he lies there in his Michael Jordan sweatsuit. Across from the Walters sit Tarah LaPar's mom and sister, here despite Tarah's objections. Pat Miller has stayed away, saying he's not ready to say goodbye.
Hoopsters coach Rick Lopez, who was found dead in his jail cell, was facing 55 felony counts of sexual assault involving players. Lopez maintained his innocence.
I believe this guy is where he belongs, but jeezz, what about the parents. What is wrong with these people, it seems like they put sports ahead of the well being of thier children.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
From the mailbag, regarding Rick Lopez:
My name is Darryl Smith. I was the head coach at Metropolitan State college in Denver from 1989-1998. Rick Lopez was my student volunteer for my first and most of my second season. We were 22-2 with one league game left to play when 3 of my players came to me and said that Rick was running around with one of their teammates, one of our players. I immediately dismissed him but not without a fight. In fact the girls father paid me a visit and pleaded for Rick's job. Needless to say, I instructed Rick at the time that that line could never be crossed. He instantly became an enemy of me and my program. I then spoke with his backers about his in appropriate behavior, and they were extremely passive about it and continued to support him. It is a sad story and Rick was a sick individual. However, the people that surrounded the Colorado Hoopsters should be under scrutiny as well.