May 12, 2006

Lopez twins continue their mother's legacy

Deborah Ledford couldn't understand what she was hearing.

Why was the technician performing her ultrasound always referring to her baby as "they" instead of "he" or "she?"

Ledford got her answer later that day.

First the doctor told her to sit down. Then Ledford learned she'd be giving birth to twins.

"I thought, 'No way,' '' Ledford said. "There aren't any twins in our family."

Less than a decade later, Ledford once again would hear something that caught her completely off guard. This time the comment came from one of her twin boys, Brook Lopez.

The second-grader already was predicting his future.

"These were his exact words," Ledford recalled. "He said, 'You know, Mom, before I play in the NBA, I'm going to play at Stanford.' "

He already has reached the first part of his goal. So has his brother.

And for that, Stanford fans should thank the twins' mother.

Brook and Robin Lopez wanted to follow the lead of their mom, a former world-class swimmer who graduated from Stanford. That's a major reason why the twins plan to enroll at Stanford this fall.

"I just kind of saw the person she was," Robin Lopez said. "If that's the kind of people Stanford produces, that kind of influenced me in my decision."

Ledford graduated from Stanford in 1971 with a degree in German, but her greatest contribution to her alma mater should become evident over the next few years.

Brook and Robin Lopez give Stanford a pair of 7-footers who earned McDonald's All-America honors at Fresno (Calif.) San Joaquin Memorial High. rated Brook Lopez as the No. 2 power forward and Robin Lopez as the No. 4 center in the 2006 recruiting class.

"Robin is a true center," said Ledford, who teaches German and math at Fresno Clovis West. "Of course, I'm his mom and I'm prejudiced, but I really think Robin is one of the best defensive players in the nation one of the best shot blockers in the nation. That's his forte.

"Brook likes to be a forward. He can play the three or the four. He likes shooting from outside more. People think he's the better player offensively that's the perception people have but Robin has an arsenal of offensive moves that most people haven't gotten to see because he doesn't often get the ball in his hands."

Who's the better player? Their mother isn't about to take sides.

"When they started out, Brook was a better player than Robin, but over time Robin caught up and found his own niche," Ledford said. "I consider them to be equally good in different areas. It's like an apple and an orange. Who's better? Well, they're different."

It Runs in the Family
Stanford basketball recruits Brook and Robin Lopez aren't the only well-rounded athletes in their family. They have plenty of relatives who also combined athletic prowess with artistic excellence.
Brook Lopez: Rated as the No. 2 power forward in the 2006 recruiting class by Enjoys drawing and has performed in numerous high school plays and musicals, including "West Side Story" and "Footloose."
Robin Lopez: Rated as the No. 4 center in the 2006 recruiting class by Enjoys drawing. Makes copies of famous paintings in art class and draws cartoons in his spare time.
Alexander Lopez: The Lopez twins' oldest brother. Played college basketball at Santa Clara and Washington. Now coaches varsity basketball and teaches government and history at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Christopher Lopez: Played basketball at Clovis West and Edison High in Fresno. Pursuing a career as a movie producer.
Deborah Ledford: The Lopez twins' mother. Was ranked second in the world in the 400 individual medley in 1966. Won a silver medal in the 200 individual medley at the 1967 World Student Games in Tokyo. Now teaches German and math at Clovis West High School in Fresno, Calif.
Bob Ledford: The Lopez twins' maternal grandfather. Played basketball at the University of Colorado and Colorado State Teachers College in the 1940s and was invited to an NBA tryout. Played semipro basketball. Coached and taught at the high school and junior college level in Nebraska, Colorado and California.
Inky Ledford: The Lopez twins' maternal grandmother. Majored in art and physical education at Colorado State Teachers College. Taught physical education and coached gymnastics in Fresno, Calif., and judged national and international gymnastics competitions.
Heriberto Lopez: The Lopez twins' father. Played baseball in Cuba, acted in plays in Spain and threw the javelin after moving to the United States.
Marcelino Lopez: The cousin of Heriberto Lopez. Pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies, California Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians from 1963-72.
Ledford's detailed scouting report comes from years of experience. She has been watching the twins play basketball for more than 15 years.

Brook Lopez taught himself to dribble at the age of 2 and began making shots on a 10-foot goal when he was 4. Robin soon joined his twin on the basketball court.

The twins benefited from playing alongside their older brothers, Alexander and Christopher. One of the older siblings would pair up with a twin in two-on-two games that often turned into tutorial sessions.

"That toughened them up because it made them go against older and bigger guys,'' Ledford said. "They'd show no mercy and helped (the twins) rise to a higher level. Even now, they give Brook and Robin advice in terms how to behave in a certain situation. Their older brothers advise them, and (the twins) listen."

The twins received basketball lessons from their two older brothers. They learned life lessons from their mother.

"She just taught us to be a better person, no matter what," Brook Lopez said. "Always be a better person."

Ledford knew her twins would have the height and athleticism to play big-time college basketball.

After all, Ledford herself is more than 6 feet tall and swam well enough to have legitimate aspirations of making the 1968 U.S. Olympic team. Ledford's 6-7 father played college basketball and was invited to an NBA tryout.

Their oldest brother, Alexander, is 6-10 and played college basketball at Washington and Santa Clara.

"I always knew they were going to be at least as tall as him and at least as good as him," Ledford said. "I knew they'd be at least 6-10. The fact they hit 7 feet and maybe beyond, that's a surprise."

Ledford encouraged her sons' love of basketball, but she also made sure they had their priorities in order. She created an environment at home that allowed the twins to hone their artistic talents as well as athletic abilities.

Brook Lopez is a performer whose acting credits include appearances in school productions of "West Side Story" and "Footloose." Robin is an accomplished artist.

Both twins collect Disney memorabilia and would like to work in the animation business if they don't make it to the NBA.

Their strong academic performances should give the twins plenty of postgraduate opportunities, no matter how they fare on the basketball court. Robin owns a 3.76 grade-point average, and Brook's is 3.73.

Both twins give their mother plenty of the credit for their strong grades.

"She's really stressed school over everything," Brook Lopez said. "She puts homework before basketball, that's for sure. Before we can go play, we have to finish our schoolwork and finish any papers we need to do.''

The twins rarely put up much of an argument.

"Most of the time they'd do their homework themselves without me having to nag them," Ledford said. "They're pretty responsible. I can't say they're responsible 100 percent of the time, but they're responsible and take care of their business 90-95 percent of the time.

"The fact they're self-motivated and responsible has been a big help."

Ledford has needed that kind of help because she has raised the 7-footers virtually on her own. Ledford has been a single mother since the twins were only 5 years old.

She almost immediately discovered the challenges of keeping up with a set of twins.

"When they were little, one of them would take off running in one direction, and the other would go in the other direction," Ledford said. "Or I'd be cleaning a mess one of them made, and the other would make another mess. When they were little, it was physically exhausting. At least I had two arms. If I'd had triplets, it would have been even more exhausting."

Fortunately for Ledford, her sons rarely head in opposite directions anymore.

Although they played on opposite sides briefly at a Stanford basketball camp one summer, they otherwise have been teammates throughout their basketball careers. The twins rarely argue and never seriously considered playing college basketball at separate schools.

That kept their mother from having to make a some difficult decisions. How would she have chosen which game to attend each weekend?

"It's very helpful (the twins) are going to the same school," Ledford said. "It's much more manageable."

Consider it a Mother's Day present that should keep paying dividends for the next four years.

This is a continuation of a series of stories leading up to Mother's Day as takes a look at some of the top athletes in college sports and the women who helped make them great.

More Mother's Day coverage:
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