Rider Transfer Matt Lopez Finally Finds Success

If it were up to Matt Lopez, he would have hoped to play more than a season with Rider. If it were up to head coach Kevin Baggett, he would have had the 7′ center in his lineup last season. But the NCAA had other plans.

Lopez started his career by redshirting and then playing one season at La Salle before transferring to Utah Sate, where he played after sitting out the first semester. Rider had hoped to get a waiver for the Washington Township, N.J. high school graduate to play right away when he joined the Broncs for the 2013-14 season.

“I wanted to get him out there, I thought the NCAA did an awful job last year on really taking everything that we presented to them, our compliance people, presented to them in order to get Matt eligible last year with the transfer rule,” Baggett said. “His grandparents are his guardians and they’ve been his legal guardian for some time, and the NCAA decided to take it amongst themselves to decide who is or who isn’t Matt’s guardians, when we presented more than enough material to them in order to get Matt eligible and that didn’t happen.”

The senior is in his third season on the court, having played as a redshirt freshman for the Explorers (0.9 ppg in 9 games), as a sophomore at Utah State (2.3 ppg), before transferring to Rider after the 2012-13 season.

(photo courtesy: Rider Athletics)
Rider senior Matt Lopez has made himself into traditional back to the basket big man, a threat that has changed the Broncs this season. (photo courtesy: Rider Athletics)

“It was really disappointing, just hearing it the way they ruled, I thought it was really unfair, but I mean it is what it is at this point,” Lopez said. “I would have loved to have played as many years as I could under coach Baggett and all the other coaches here.”

“When I was being recruited, I didn’t really know what to look for. When I left Utah State, I knew what to look for, I wanted to find guys who believed in me, who really believed in me and had a lot of trust in me and that’s what these guys have. If I could, I wish could play another three years with these guys.”

Playing in his first full season since his freshman season, Lopez leads the Broncs in scoring, rebounding and in field goal percentage. To say that he has exceeded expectations would be an understatement.

“I was asking for Matt if he could score eight and six for us, eight points and six rebounds, I’d be totally happy with him and he’s exceeded that,” Baggett said. “He’s been that go-to guy. He’s been the most consistent player that we’ve had all year long.”

“He’s exceeded every expectation that I had for him. To know and watch him grow from last year to now, and just his experiences he’s had along the way at La Salle and at Utah State, I’m happy for him.”

There is no doubt that Lopez has changed plenty in the program in his just one season of eligibility. Baggett compared his ability to alter the game as a big man to their last great big man, Jason Thompson, who finished his career winning MAAC Player of the Year and being selected 12th overall in the NBA draft. At times the 7′ center has carried the Broncs in a similar way, scoring 20 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in an overtime win over Fairfield and going for 27 points and 10 rebounds in a victory over Manhattan.

“I have a passion for just scoring on the block,” Lopez said. “I knew I was capable of doing it, but the success I’ve been having at the end of the year is totally my team finding me in the right positions.”

You won’t find his name too high at the top of the conference list in blocked shots, compared to other big men, but he alters a number of shots in the lane by using his quickness to get into good position.

Baggett said he asked his compliance department if there was any way that Lopez could get another season of eligibility, but to no avail. However, when Lopez graduates, he will likely see plenty of professional opportunities now and the seven-footer is happy that he has done it his way.

“My situation, my career as a whole, is not a path that many would choose, but I mean at the end of the day I can sit back and say that I did things my way and no one can ever take that from me,” Lopez said. “I pride myself on that I held out and found a really good program. I think everything is starting to gel together and I couldn’t be happier.”

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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