SANTA CLARA — Big, broad-shouldered and goateed, Alex Lopez strikes an intimidating figure on the basketball court.
A closer look reveals a player whose size far exceeds what he has accomplished on the college level.
"He's not a gifted player in any area," said Dick Davey, Lopez's coach at Santa Clara University.
But, at 6 feet 10 and 250 pounds, Lopez can fill a lane, even if he has struggled to fulfill the promise he showed as a dominant center at Campbell Hall High.
His physical presence has kept him in the starting lineup for Santa Clara, which entered the week with a 13-3 record, its best start in 20 years.
"He can bang some bodies," Davey said. "He's not afraid to take a charge. It's just that his physical development needs to get better as far as skills go.
"He needs to get quicker, become a better shooter and a more solid post player."
Lopez has found satisfaction in being a contributor rather than a star. His modest averages--4.6 points and 3.1 rebounds--haven't detracted from an enjoyable junior season.
"I wanted to find a program that would allow me to grow as a player," said Lopez, who left Washington in the middle of his sophomore season in 1995-96. "Coach Davey has given me a lot of freedom to do what I can to help this team. Now it's up to me."
Lopez's stock has fallen sharply since he was The Times' Valley player of the year as a Campbell Hall senior in 1994, after helping the Vikings win the Southern Section Division V-AA title.
Once considered a blue-chip prospect and recruited by colleges from across the nation, he signed with Washington but languished at the end of the Husky bench.
Even though he's a starter, he doesn't play much. In Santa Clara's 77-71 victory over Pepperdine last week, Lopez logged only 16 minutes, making one of five shots and finishing with two points and two rebounds.
Davey, though, has stuck with Lopez, hoping his patience will be rewarded in time.
"I know he's going to get better," Davey said.
In the meantime, Lopez is helping the Broncos any way he can.
"When he's on the bench, he's our most vocal guy," Davey said. "He's really involved with his teammates and he never gripes if he's not playing."
Lopez says he won't complain if he can't make a living by playing basketball.
"I haven't blossomed into an NBA prospect, but maybe I can," he said. "I feel no pressure to be at that high level. There's more to life than basketball."
Lopez's alternate career goal?
"I will probably be a history teacher," he said.