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Jazz’s Lopez Shuns Stockton Thoughts

July 18, 2002

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Forget the comparisons to John Stockton. With his ratty hair and slender build, Raul Lopez looks a lot more like Steve Nash.

The Utah Jazz held a late-night news conference Wednesday to introduce Lopez, their first-round choice from the 2001 draft. The 22-year-old should be in camp this fall after negotiating a buyout of his Spanish-league contract.

``I would have liked to play in Utah last year, but my contract was different in Europe,″ Lopez explained in Spanish through a translator. ``I felt an obligation to play one more year there.″

For curious Jazz fans, it offered a glimpse at the future. If Stockton decides to honor his contract and return for a 19th NBA season, Lopez would learn at the hands of a 40-year-old superstar.

But first, a word of caution about the inevitable comparisons.

``I didn’t come here to follow John Stockton,″ Lopez said. ``Anyone who came here to compare themselves with John Stockton would be absurd. I just came here to play for Utah.″

Jazz vice president Kevin O’Connor seized the moment.

``We’d like him to be the first Raul Lopez, rather than the second John Stockton,″ O’Connor said.

Other than standing 6-foot-1 like Stockton, Lopez doesn’t bear much resemblance. The Spaniard has a young face, and his black sports coat seemed a little baggy on his bony frame.

He has a narrow wisp of facial hair running from his lower lip to the tip of his chin, and his travel-worn face was topped by a hairstyle that matched the look worn by Nash, the emerging Dallas Mavericks point guard.

Asked about his play, Lopez sounded like he was describing the gritty Nash and the venerable Stockton.

``My style is not physical. It’s based more on speed,″ Lopez said. ``I’m more of a fallback, old-school player.″

Lopez won’t play on Utah’s summer-league team that opens competition this week. He will play for Spain, however, at next month’s world championships in Indianapolis.

It didn’t take long for Lopez to find a friend.

After his remarks, he posed for photos with Utah Starzz guard Elisa Aguilar, another Spaniard. She was still in uniform following Utah’s 75-67 WNBA victory over visiting Houston.

Lopez isn’t on the Jazz roster yet. He arrived in Salt Lake City after completing his buyout last weekend, holding a news conference in Madrid and hopping a flight to the United States.

Before signing an NBA contract, he will spend Thursday taking a physical. Team officials are sure to examine the right knee that required reconstructive surgery and six months of rehabilitation last season.

Lopez has no concerns.

``Muy bien,″ he said when asked about the knee.

``The knee feels very well,″ the translator went on. ``He’s played in 10 playoff games and the knee felt equal to or better than it did before.″

Lopez also needs approval by the international basketball federation, FIBA, and the NBA before he can sign with Utah. Then he would need to secure a work permit from immigration officials.

``I’m never doing this again,″ said O’Connor, who brought Andrei Kirilenko over from Russia for the 2001-02 season. ``He’s here. We still haven’t completed a deal ... but we’re a lot closer than we were.″

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