BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug. 22, 2019– It takes a community to mold an athlete, especially if he is coming from the south side of Belize City where the ambitions of young men could be easily derailed. It is therefore cause for celebration for every youth who defies the odds that are systemically stacked against them.
From deep inside the heart of Lake Independence, Glency “Coopeh” Lopez, an unlikely star basketball player, emerged to become a member of Belize’s National Basketball Team, after he was rejected on two occasions. Through sheer discipline and with iron-willed determination to stay the course, Lopez eventually made it on to the national stage, and has become the recipient of a basketball scholarship to study in the United States.
We caught up with Lopez a few short hours before he was scheduled to depart, and asked him to tell us how he got a scholarship through playing basketball to go to the US to study.
Lopez, 21, appeared to be a humble man, who speaks only a few words; he replied, “I got the scholarship through my National Team coach, Milton Palacio; he helped me out.”
“I’m going to Midland Junior College, in Texas,” Lopez offered when we asked him to tell us specifically where he is going.
Lopez, a 2017 graduate of Sadie Vernon High School, also located in Lake Independence, told us that he has not made up his mind yet what he will major in, but will first focus on General Studies.
At an early age, Lopez became involved in basketball. “I started playing when I was 8-to 9-years-old,” the point guard who represented Belize on its national team when it won medals in regional games.
Paul Thompson, the President of Belize Basketball Federation, explained a bit of Lopez’s history.
Thompson said that Lopez tried out for the National U-12 Team when he was around 12 years old, and when he got cut from that team, he took that in stride, because that is how he is, a very humble person; that’s his personality, Thompson said.
A few years later, when he was 15 years old, he again tried out for the National U-16 Team, and again didn’t make it. He took that in stride as well, and continued to play basketball, Thompson continued; four years later, he made it to the Men’s National Team.”
Thompson explained that Lopez’s coach, Milton Palacio selected him to play, and Belize won a bronze medal, the only medal that we won in those games for team sports. That was in 2017. In 2018, we had the Central American Games here, and Lopez was a part of the team that won a silver medal, Thompson said.
“Most recently, in February this year, we played Cuba and Bahamas, and everybody saw what ‘Coopeh’ could do; and right then and there, Milton Palacio said, ‘We have to get this young man a scholarship.’ So he contacted his former Junior College coach in Midland Texas, and told him that he has this young man who is an excellent player, and that he would recommend him for a scholarship,” Thompson explained.
Thompson added, “Milt Palacio mentioned to the coach that this man would run through a wall for you. So the story of this young man is a story about a man who perseveres. He could have quit, and could have joined a gang; he could have gone the wrong route. We hope this is something that could happen to a young man every year.”
Lopez, apart from playing for the Belize Men’s National Team, for three years also played for Belize Hurricanes in the NEBL (National Elite Basketball League).
We asked Lopez what he was looking forward to when he gets to Texas.
“I am looking forward to passing every test and to do my best,” Lopez replied.
Lopez said he is excited about getting the scholarship, “but I am a little sad, because I will miss my little family that I have.”
Lopez is the father of a one-year-old daughter, Azara Lopez.
Asked what he would like to tell other young basketball players, Lopez replied, “Be humble and be disciplined. Dreams do come true.”
Thompson said that special recognition must be paid to Milton Palacio, the Belize National Basketball Head Coach, for supporting Lopez and his dream. “Palacio is a Belizean living abroad who continues to give selflessly to Belize,” Thompson revealed.
Belize City Mayor, Bernard Wagner and the City Council helped tremendously with footing some of the cost of his travel. Special thanks also go Jay Jex and Matthew Smiling for helping Lopez, Thompson said.