IN EIGHT YEARS with Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma, Ray Lopes built up a Rolodex to last a basketball lifetime. The newest member of Ken Bone’s staff at WSU spent much of the last decade in Moscow and Fresno, but he told Cougfan.com yesterday that his reach never left the fertile recruiting grounds that helped propel Sampson’s Sooners to eight straight NCAA Tournaments and a Final Four appearance.
“I spent eight years at Oklahoma, and at the high school and junior college level, we were thorough in our recruiting,” Lopes said. “From Minnesota and the Midwest region, all the way to the southeast portion of the country, we were there. The coaches still know me and I still recruit there. When I pick up the phone they know who I am and they’re not a stranger at the other end.”
After Cougar assistant Jeff Hironaka was moved to the role of player development director, Bone said he wanted to find a replacement with recruiting connections in the Midwest.
It makes sense. Bone, Hironaka and Curtis Allen are Northwest guys through and through. And the Midwest is a rich recruiting territory, as George Raveling proved in Cougarville in the 1970s when he rebuilt the program with kids from the likes of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri.
“I think the main thing from a recruiting standpoint is my experience,” Lopes said. “The number of contacts I’ve established, and relationships nationwide -- there’s not too many places in the country I haven’t been to and had success signing guys.”
LOPES BRINGS MORE than two decades of coaching experience to WSU, including a life-changing turn of events at Fresno State that he says not only made him a better coach, but a better person as well.
Lopes was the head man at FSU and doing a bang-up job, leading the Bulldogs to a WAC title in 2003 and a 50-37 record after three seasons. He was considered one of the hottest young coaches in the nation, and turned down an offer to jump to Iowa State.
Then the roof caved in.
In March of 2005, the NCAA cited him for making 457 impermissible recruiting phone calls over a two-plus-year period running from the tail end of his time at Oklahoma into his tenure at FSU.
Lopes resigned, saying "When I came here I made a commitment to running a program with no violations. I recognize that there have been violations of the telephone contact rule in the recruitment of some prospective student-athletes. I regret that occurred. I am a man of my word and am true to the commitment I made when I came here. I am resigning at this time in the best interest of the Fresno State program and to minimize any potential jeopardy for the university."
One of the brightest young coaches in the game was suddenly in hoops purgatory, effectively banned from the college game for three years. He became a scout for the San Antonio Spurs and then an associate head coach in the NBA’s development league.
“There’s no denying the phone call situation that occurred,” Lopes told CF.C Wednesday. "I went through, the one thing you lose is something you love. You appreciate what you had and learn it was a wonderful thing. It was actually a good experience to go through. Not something you want to happen, or wish upon someone, but I went through it and I grew from it.”
LOPES WAS GIVEN a second chance at Idaho in 2008 when he joined the staff of head coach Don Verlin. He was promoted to assistant head coach a year later.
He will now work on the other side of the Moscow-Pullman Highway – and already has jumped into the recruiting fray at full tilt.
He said he’s been working the phones -- completely within compliance, of course -- on recruiting, and getting organized in his new office.
“I think it’s a good move and I’m excited about the opportunity that was presented to move back to what was the Pac-10 and is now the Pac-12,” Lopes said. “I think Coach Bone has a good staff and I’ve been really happy to be welcomed in by those guys. I think the chemistry is going to be good and we’re all going to take a role in the recruiting process, which is good.”
As for the transition from Moscow to Pullman, the only thing Lopes really needs to do is move offices. He and his family – wife Pierrette, daughters Alaina and Teylor, and son Trey -- have lived in Pullman for the past four years.
Lopes coached at WSU with Sampson for one season – with the NCAA Tournament-bound Cougar team of 1993-94 – before Sampson took the head job at Oklahoma. Lopes joked he was nervous whether Sampson, after only 10 months working together, would bring him along. He did and it worked out well for both as the Sooners averaged 26 wins per season over the next eight years.
Lopes came to WSU that first time after four years as an assistant at UC Santa Barbara. His first Division I coaching position was at Weber State in 1988.
Lopes is a native of New Haven, Conn., but moved to Hayward, Calif., as a junior in high school and then played two seasons at West Valley Community College in Saratoga, Calif., before transferring to the College of Idaho. He was a two-year starter for the Coyotes and led them to consecutive trips to the NAIA National Championship. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in business administration from the College of Idaho in 1987.