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Lopez Claims Brother Paid for Trip to Las Vegas

September 25, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ St. John’s junior Felipe Lopez said he is innocent of allegations that he and teammate Zendon Hamilton accepted an expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas, a newspaper reported today.

Lopez, a 6-foot-6 guard, and Hamilton, a 6-11 junior center, went on the trip to work out with Seattle SuperSonics assistant and former UNLV coach Tim Grgurich. It was reportedly paid for by Adidas representative Sonny Vaccaro.

Lopez told the New York Post in today’s editions that he was going about business as usual.

``I know I didn’t do anything wrong,″ Lopez told the Post. ``My brother paid for the trip. Basically, I’m just going to classes.″

Vaccaro hired Lopez’s older brother, Anthony Lopez, to work at Adidas during the player’s early high school days.

Lopez and Hamilton may have violated an NCAA rule prohibiting athletes from receiving gifts based on their playing ability. Hamilton, who lives in a Queens, N.Y., apartment with Lopez, could not be reached for comment.

St. John’s athletic director Ed Manetta began an internal investigation and reported the case to Big East compliance officer Stan Wilcox, who has contacted the NCAA about the potential infraction.

David Berst, the NCAA director of enforcement, told the Post that if student athletes are found to be ineligible for accepting free trips, they will have to first repay the person who gave them the gift before they can appeal to the NCAA for reinstatement.

Berst said ``in most instances″ a school agrees to suspend players in violation for a game or two so it can ask the NCAA to let them play again.

Vaccaro, who has admitted paying for the players’ trip, said that St. John’s coaches did not initially know who covered the airfares.

``I think they’re confused and scared,″ Vaccaro said. ``But there is no reason for concern. I’ve been doing things like this for years. ... I was acting as a friend of these two players, not as a representative.″

``I don’t think it’s going to cost them anything,″ Anthony Lopez said. ``We might have to find the money and pay Sonny back.″