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Staying Power

College life seems to agree with Stanford's talented freshman twins, Brook and Robin Lopez

March 08, 2007|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Somewhere in the NBA, there's a souped-up Hummer to buy or bling with the value of a home in the suburbs.

Brook and Robin Lopez, the Stanford basketball team's 7-foot twins, will pass on such things for now.

Fancy cars and jewelry won't do them much good, not when they don't even have driver's licenses and would rather spend the money from any future big contracts on a home for their mother overlooking Puget Sound.

Besides, they are serious students, and when the freshmen aren't studying, they can be found sketching superhuman cartoon characters or engaging in other unusual endeavors.

Last fall, Robin Lopez participated in "Gaieties 2006: From Cal With Love," a series of comedic skits held before the Stanford-California football game. An online promo for the student-run theatrical extravaganza proclaimed that "singing, dancing and nudity are guaranteed."

At this rate, the NBA lifestyle might seem like a letdown.

Basketball has a place in the twins' lives, of course. But even on days such as today, when the Cardinal opens play in the Pacific 10 Conference tournament against USC at Staples Center, it does not define them.

Regardless of how many millions they might someday make in the NBA, the twins would like to produce a comic book or perhaps an animated movie.

"They're really creative and some of the smartest people I know," said Alex Lopez, an older brother who coaches boys' varsity basketball at Woodland Hills El Camino Real High. "They're both artists."

Count Tim Floyd among the legion of college coaches who wish the twins would forgo leather and hardwood for charcoal and canvas. On Jan. 25 at Stanford's Maples Pavilion, the Lopezes put on a display worthy of their otherworldly creations, combining for 24 points, 15 rebounds and 15 blocks during a 65-50 victory over the Trojans.

"At times they've been dominant, which you don't see many freshmen do in college basketball," Floyd said. "I think they're only going to get better."

Fans used to distinguish the twins by their hair -- Brook had the closely cropped curls, Robin the longer locks pulled back into something resembling an oversized Brillo pad. But ever since Robin shaved his head after losses to the Washington schools, they're harder to tell apart.

Opponents know this: Brook is the aggressor on offense, Robin the defensive menace whose 69 blocks lead the Pac-10.

"We're just trying to catch up to each other so we're as good on both sides of the court," said Robin, who averages 7.8 points and 5.7 rebounds to his brother's 12.7 points and 5.8 rebounds.

The twins lived in Granada Hills through the second grade before moving briefly to Washington state and then settling in Fresno, where they became McDonald's All-Americans at San Joaquin Memorial High. They credit much of their basketball development to older brothers Alex and Chris. Often the "little" ones would team up to take on Alex, 13 years older.

"They were taller than me by the end of their sophomore year, beginning of their junior year in high school," said Alex, who is 6-10 and played college basketball at Washington and Santa Clara. "I had to adjust my game because when you're going against two 7-footers, you're not going to score inside."

Even more daunting than playing the twins was feeding and clothing them. For that, they feel forever indebted to their single mother, Deborah Ledford, who tracked down giant prom tuxedos from Atlanta and, on a teacher's salary, sprang for a monthly food bill of about $1,000.

The twins had to relinquish one staple of teenage life -- driving -- because their mother couldn't afford car insurance. But Ledford took them everywhere they needed to go, including to Palo Alto to visit her alma mater.

"Ever since they were 2 or 3 years old, they had Stanford shirts, Stanford wallets," Alex said. "We would go up there to the Stanford bookstore, walk around."

Although they are projected to be first-round selections whenever they decide to make themselves eligible for the NBA draft, the twins say they're just getting started in college and plan to attain their degrees.

"My mom's a teacher, I'm a teacher," Alex said. "My mom wants them to stay all four years. ... I don't see them leaving any time soon."

Said Brook: "A Stanford degree, that can get you a lot of jobs."

Maybe even some bling.

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