With the NCAA basketball tournament reaching the semi-finals and finals this weekend and the Knicks still trying to qualify for the last playoff position in the National Basketball Association at press time, let’s turn the clock back and look at one of the great players who competed in New York City and particularly Madison Square Garden.
He is Felipe Lopez, who starred and started at both Rice High School and then at St. John’s University and at times at Madison Square Garden, the venue that recently hosted a NCAA Round of 16 tournament semi-final and final.
Some years after Lopez played his ball at Rice of the Catholic High Schools Athletic Association, the Harlem based school in Manhattan eventually closed its doors. Rice was a power house in basketball, and produced other great players, as well, in its history.
“It was fun while playing at Rice,” Lopez recalled. “We tried to help the school stay open but there were too many bariers (for it to do so and unfortunately) shut down.
“When you talk about playing in New York there was always one place I would want to play in and that’s the Garden(and that’s where many great college teams and individuals and the Knicks played their games)… And playing at St. John’s University meant playing at the Garden…”
Presently Felipe Lopez is working in a program based in New York City called NBA Cares.
He certainly enjoys working in this program. It involves working with the youth in the sport of basketball. He tries to improve their education, their well being, and awareness.
“We have many different programs including a staying in school program,” said Lopez, after a press conference before the start of the Sweet 16 tournament. “We have so many initiatives, especially for the kids…”
A resident of the Bronx and while working in the NBA Cares program for over three years, he has certain duties to perform. He also goes out and gives clinics to the kids at the Bronx Spanish Church, located on 156th Street and Prospect Avenue.
He is very much involved in the sport of basketball and still follows all phases of it-whether it be high school, college or the pros.
During his active career which, of course, included playing at The Garden in a visitor’s uniform, he became the top freshman in the country while at St. John’s University, and was a first round pick by San Antonio of the National Basketball Association in 1998. Of course, he would have liked to compete with the Knicks, but it didn’t come about.
“I had so many great highlights on the court,” he said. “One came when I was in high school I played with the Gauchos and at the time that I wanted to make ‘it’ to the NBA. I was on a fast break and I ended up dunking ‘it’ (the basketball) on (over) an NBA player.”
Lopez didn’t remember the name of this player.
But he did say that the whole gym just erupted. “I may have been 16 or 17 (at the time),” he recalled. “People started running out on the court. That was one of the greatest memories I had of all time.”
And putting on an NBA uniform as a 6’ 5” guard was another highlight of his career. And just to play very well in the NBA was another highlight of his career.
During his active career on the court, he became the best player in the country while at Rice High where he played on a City championship team, was a high school All-American, starred for four years at St. John’s University, averaging 17.6 points and six rebounds a game and was a first round draft choice, and the list goes on.
An ambassador with NBA Cares program, Lopez feels very satisfied with what he does and doesn’t feel like going back on the court. “But I would become a coach but the right time has to come-may be college,” he added. “I still work out when I can near my home... I love my job.”