PULLMAN – Washington State assistant coach Ray Lopes had been told “no” more than a few times.
His reputation damaged by NCAA violations committed at Fresno State in 2006 while he was coach there, Lopes found it difficult to get back into college basketball after spending three years out of the game due to a “show cause” penalty – meaning any school wishing to hire him in that span would have to state its case to an NCAA committee.
So Lopes spent a year scouting for the San Antonio Spurs, then helped coach the Idaho Stampede of the NBA Development League for two seasons. But as he searched for jobs after the show-cause penalty had run its course, Lopes knew the stigma still existed.
Idaho coach Don Verlin decided he was worth taking a chance on. Verlin had just been hired as UI’s head coach in March 2008 – Lopes also interviewed for the position – and brought Lopes on board in June of that year.
“I had a hard time getting back in, and understandably so, coming off the NCAA show-cause,” Lopes said. “There was a lot of hesitation on administrators’ behalves, and other coaches. It was just real difficult getting back in. I was fortunate and lucky that Coach Verlin gave me that one opportunity, which I will always be indebted to him for.”
It will be a reunion of sorts, then, at 7 tonight at Beasley Coliseum when WSU (3-3) hosts Idaho (1-3), where Lopes coached the past four seasons before joining coach Ken Bone’s staff at WSU in May.
It’s been a full-circle ride for Lopes. He was an assistant under coach Kelvin Sampson during his final season at WSU in 1993-94, when the Cougars won 20 games and advanced to the NCAA tournament.
Lopes followed Sampson to Oklahoma, where he assisted for eight seasons – including the Sooners’ 2002 Final Four appearance – before leaving for Fresno State.
Now, he’s back at WSU, facing the team that helped reintroduce him to college basketball.
“That’s all I needed was just an opportunity to get back,” Lopes said. “It worked out good. We had four really successful years there under his tutelage, and just out of the blue this opportunity presented itself.”
Bone said the Cougars will “ask him some questions, no doubt about it,” as they prepare to face Lopes’ former team.
“There’s no big secrets when dealing with the University of Idaho,” Bone said.
The players might feel that way, too.
“We scrimmage a lot because they’re so close,” WSU guard Royce Woolridge said. “We go over there and have open gyms, and they come here and have open gyms. We do that two, three times a week during the summer.”
“It’s definitely one we don’t overlook, because we know they’re a tough team,” junior forward Brock Motum said.
Senior center Kyle Barone and junior forward Stephen Madison lead Idaho with 17.3 points per game each. The Vandals have beaten only Green Bay, though they were tied at halftime last week against New Mexico before wilting late.
“It’s going to be a tough matchup for us (tonight),” Lopes said. “They’re a very, very solid basketball team who’s better than their record.”
He would know, right?
Lacy still out
Until the swelling in DaVonte Lacy’s left knee decreases, Bone said, doctors can’t re-evaluate the sophomore guard.
Lacy, one of two returning starters from last season, injured his knee after getting tangled up with another player in WSU’s Nov. 19 game against Kansas. He is expected to miss at least another two weeks or so, though a more accurate timetable for his return won’t be determined until the swelling subsides.
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