Twin towers finding their way at Stanford
Robin Lopez grabs an offensive rebound, scores the putback with an exaggerated, celebratory follow-through and is fouled. His free throw clanks off the front of the rim.
Later, a pass goes between his legs in a rare mistake that wasn’t all his fault. He receives a standing ovation at Maples Pavilion when his brother, Brook, replaces him in Stanford’s lineup late in the game against rival California. Brook collides with teammate Taj Finger, sending Finger to the bench because of an injury.
The Cardinal’s 7-foot freshman twins from Fresno at times look nothing like first-year college players with their natural talent, size and smart decision-making. Yet other times it’s obvious they still are adjusting to the fast, physical pace of the Pacific 10 Conference.
On Jan. 7, the brothers were in the starting lineup together for the first time, and both scored in double figures in a victory at Virginia. Starting together was a surprise: They found out by reading the board in the locker room beforehand.
The twins started together again Thursday night, with Robin scoring a career-high 17 points and Brook adding 12. They combined for seven blocked shots in a 78-77 win over Washington.
“That’s what they’re here for,” Stanford Coach Trent Johnson said. “They have great hands.”
The Lopez brothers were among the top centers in the country in the 2006 recruiting class.
If the past is any indication, their presence on the Farm will bring plenty of success to Stanford, which sent twins Jarron and Jason Collins on to careers in the NBA after their success with the Cardinal.
“When Stanford gets their players, they get them in twos,” Cal Coach Ben Braun joked. “The Collinses were great players, and the Lopezes will be great players. It took the Collins brothers a while to develop. The Lopezes have every bit as much talent.”
Robin is the quiet one and more productive so far, though the outgoing Brook is considered the better player. He is still coming along after missing the early part of the season recovering from back surgery in late September.
The identical twins are easy to tell apart too. Robin controls his wispy, curly hair with a headband while his brother sports a crew cut. Whatever look, they present a challenge.
“They’re huge guys,” said Cal freshman Ryan Anderson, who banged around with the Lopez twins in the Golden Bears’ win at Stanford on Jan. 3. “They can block shots. They will continue to get better.”
They have known for years they wanted to play for Stanford. When their older brother, Alexander, chose Washington over Stanford and wound up disappointed and transferred to Santa Clara, Brook and Robin vowed not to make that mistake.
“We never talked about it,” Brook said. “It was kind of unspoken we were going to play together at Stanford.”
Their mom, a former world-class swimmer, was all for that.
Deborah Ledford -- a 1971 Stanford graduate -- has raised the twins as a single mother since they were 5. That’s when she moved out on their father in Los Angeles.
“As a parent, you do your best,” said Ledford, who makes a three-hour drive for her sons’ weekend home games. “My kids are better off having one strong, healthy parent to raise them. It was good for them that I moved out. They may not know that yet. They have had good male role models.”
Ledford is nearly 6-1 and her father, a former college player and coach, was 6-7. The twins never had that big growth spurt many teenagers experience. They tended to steadily add 3 inches a year.
Playing together in college was always a given. They didn’t even discuss doing things differently, though they now live on opposite sides of Stanford’s campus to have a little bit of space.
“I remember exactly, Brook said, ‘You know, Mom, before I play in the NBA, I’m going to play at Stanford,’ ” recalled Ledford, a high school math and German teacher who typically kept 20 boxes of cereal on hand in her house for her hungry crew of four boys.
“He taught himself to dribble when he was 2 and taught himself on a 10-foot basket at 4. He would shoot and shoot and shoot until it finally went in.”
Robin eventually joined in.
The Cardinal hope the Lopezes will bring the school success similar to what the Collins twins did. Stanford went 114-19 during their careers from 1997-2001, with three Pac-10 titles, four NCAA appearances and a trip to the 1998 Final Four. Jason, now with the New Jersey Nets, stands 7 feet. Jarron, who plays for the Utah Jazz, is 6-11.
Robin calls the constant comparisons “flattering.”
Brook was born 1 minute earlier and a pound heavier at 7 pounds. By first grade, when their teacher lined them up tallest to shortest for a photo, the boys knew they had a height advantage on their classmates.
“I was 2 inches taller,” Brook recalled.
They already were 4-11, and grew to 5-3 by third grade.
The boys initially were placed on different teams when they began organized basketball in grade school, but their mother worked to get them on the same team to make things easier on everybody’s schedules.
“She definitely sacrificed a lot being a single mom,” Brook said.
Said Robin: “Hopefully this is a nice load off her back.”
But now the twins are quite a load for the rest of the Pac-10.