Will Rogers never met a man he didn't like. Mario Lopez never met a man he didn't foul.
In 27 games with Valley College last season, Lopez fouled out 19 times. He nearly fouled out in most of the other eight games. Lopez spent more time slapping people than Moe of the Three Stooges. Most basketball players deliver high-five hand slaps after a good play. Lopez delivered them during a good play.
After Lopez had fouled out of his 11th game, Valley College Coach Virgil Watson threatened to bench his starting forward, then reconsidered, using this reasoning: "What good would that do? He ends up sitting on the bench anyway. It's like punishing a track star by making him run laps. He runs laps anyway."
Lopez, who played for one season at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, now plays for Fresno State. The 6-7 reserve forward impressed Bulldogs Coach Ron Adams enough to earn a scholarship.
"His strong points were that he's a pretty bright player and offensively he has good instincts," Adams said.
"Fouls," Adams said. "He's doing better in the foul department, but he still needs work. It's a lack of mental toughness. He has improved and we are working with him to improve his fundamentals, showing him that there's no reason to reach in on a guy and commit silly fouls. It's a matter of timing and mental discipline. He has to learn to play with more poise and mental toughness."
Heading into Thursday night's game against Long Beach State, Lopez had appeared in 13 games for the Bulldogs, averaging 8.8 minutes per game. He was averaging 2.8 points per game, and in his best performance of the season scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds against Princeton.
Fouls? He had 11 in 114 minutes, which would average out to almost four fouls if he played a 40-minute game.
"I think he's much better off at the Division I level than he was at this level," Watson said. "At the JC level he was much better than most of the players he went against, and he felt obligated to block every shot they put up. We tried to teach him how to pick his spots and be selective, but he just couldn't resist trying to block every shot."
Lopez has blocked only four shots for Fresno State, but Adams said he's happy with Lopez's progress.
"His problems were just a case of over-aggressiveness," Adams said. "That's not very helpful without having some control over it. He knows now that there are three people in striped shirts watching him to make sure it is controlled."
But sometimes, the over-aggressiveness resurfaces. Against Long Beach State, Lopez played five minutes. He had no points, no rebounds, no assists and no blocked shots.
But he did have two fouls.