For basketball coach Luis Lopez, it’s not always about winning – even if his team is so darn good at it.
Lopez, a parent-teacher coordinator at JHS 22 Jordan L. Mott school in Claremont, is at the tail end of his fifth year coaching the middle school basketball program, a club with a shoestring budget out of Lopez’ own pocket.
He’s hired referees at $50 a game, purchased the costly basketballs and the team jerseys needed for his Ravens, a mascot he chose over the school’s regular tiger mascot.
“My philosophy’s all about defense,” said Lopez, 27. “Ravens like to attack in packs. That’s how they take out their enemies.”
It’s certainly worked for the Ravens, who executed their second perfect regular season this year, beating seven different teams within the B Division.
The team recently “ran the tables,” winning the championship for the NYC Middle School Bronx Boys Varsity B Division. Their winning streak has now shifted them over to the A Division, considered the bigger leagues.
Lopez, known around the school as “Mr. Lopez,” also shares in the philosophy of grades before scores.
“I don’t care if you have five homework assignments,” said Lopez. “If it’s due tomorrow you better find a way to do it tomorrow or you don’t play. Even if you’re the star player.”
Placing an emphasis on education has been Lopez’s mantra since the beginning, having served as a tutor for JHS 22’s LEAP After School Program, all while cobbling players to form the first-ever basketball team.
Putting the team together was Lopez’s clever way of keeping an eye on kids living in a vulnerable section of the borough, marked by poverty and street gangs.
“Most of the kids, when they got out of here, would hang at the corner,” he said, adding many kids would have no one to come home to. “They cook for themselves.” Lopez soon transitioned from after-school supervisor to parent-teacher coordinator once JHS 22 was placed on the turnaround schools list.
The promotion offered him the advantage of keeping track of his players’ grades to determine whether they will play.
And the incentive to do well has proven to work for Lopez after noticing grades tick up for plenty of his hoopsters.
“My basketball students normally average about 7% higher grade point average than students in the same grade and classes,” he boasted.
The formula has garnered plenty of attention by the teaching staff and students, impressed by Lopez’s success.
“They want the program around,” said Lopez, “All year round.”
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383