LYNWOOD -- Oscar Lopez, Jr., a Lynwood High School student, was shooting hoops in the school gymnasium last month when someone behind him patted his shoulder and said “good shot.”
At first he thought it was his varsity basketball coach, so he kept practicing. The hand tapping on his shoulder indicated otherwise, and the 6-foot-3 varsity freshman turned around to face Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul Pierce.
In a video released on Tuesday, Pierce surprised Lopez on May 24 with a one-on-one interview for The Players’ Tribune, a website founded by former Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter that allows athletes to share their stories with fans. They watched footage of the Lynwood Knights’ recent game against Warren High School while Pierce gave Lopez suggestions, then took to the court to practice some techniques.
“We were watching a film of my high school games,” Lopez said. “He explained some things I was doing wrong and what I needed to work on. He also told me I need to keep my balance when I dribble.”
The Tribune coordinated interviews between eight professional and eight high school athletes to help the young athletes learn about their game. Lynwood High boys basketball coach Gary Lenoir, who also coaches an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team called The Truth Paul Pierce, recommended his outstanding freshman for the spotlight.
Lopez played soccer as a little kid and grew interested in basketball when his father, Oscar Lopez, Sr., enrolled him in a recreation league at 10 years old. Lopez grew to love the sport, ditching the field for the court.
Lenoir first met Lopez when the seventh-grader attended a community workout session. Lenoir was so impressed by Lopez’ positive attitude and athleticism that he planned to reserve a spot for him on Lynwood High’s varsity team.
“This year, he was the second best player on our team,” Lenoir said. “It was a no-brainer.”
Lopez also shines in the classroom.
To maintain his 3.5 GPA while attending practices and games, Lopez attends a sixth-period study hall every school day with his teammates. He’s able to finish homework and can ask his strength coach Kal Wright any questions about his assignments.
Pierce urged Lopez to continue doing well in school if he wants to advance to college basketball, saying good things would come if he worked hard.
“We’re always proud when students are able to meet with professionals like Paul Pierce — it motivates them to keep pursuing their passions,” Lynwood Unified Superintendent Paul Gothold said. “I hope he shares the lessons he learned on hard work and dedication with his fellow Knights.”
Lynwood was edged out by Santa Barbara High School for the CIF-Southern Section Division 2A championship in the school’s first CIF championship game since the early 1990s.
“To get to the championship in my first year of high school was great,” Lopez said.
To stay in shape during the spring and summer, Lopez and his teammates do four-mile runs in Hermosa Beach. They stop at each lifeguard tower to do push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups or plank holds. Lopez admits that running in the sand is his most dreaded workout.
Lenoir said Lopez had to play some games before earning the respect of his teammates, but he’s since emerged as a leader off the court.
“Our student athletes work so hard on and off the court, so it’s very special to have an NBA player visit one of our standout players,” Lynwood Board President Alma-Delia Renteria said. “It can be difficult to stay on top of schoolwork while attending so many games and practices, and we’re so proud that Oscar has been able to do all of this and set a great example for his teammates.”