Ben Howland has been aching to talk about Kevin Love. He has been yearning to say that Love "is the best outlet passer I've ever seen at any level since Bill Walton."
He has wanted to announce, "Kevin Love is the best high school basketball player in the country."
Some of the player ratings don't have him quite at the top, but forgive Howland his enthusiasm.
Love, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound center from Lake Oswego, Ore., was the object of an intense recruiting battle that had Howland facing off against, among others, North Carolina's Roy Williams.
But in the end, Howland won out. Love verbally committed to UCLA weeks ago and on Wednesday, the first day high school seniors could sign a national letter of intent during the early signing period, he made it official.
Among the top high school basketball recruiting sites, Love was ranked No. 3 by Scout.com and No. 7 by Rivals.com.
Whether it is one year or two before Love leaves Westwood for the NBA doesn't matter to Howland. "You go after the best players in the country," the UCLA coach said. "I've recruited him since eighth grade. He's an unselfish kid and the best player in the country. You take him for how long you can get him."
UCLA also received a commitment from Los Angeles Fairfax High's Chace Stanback, a 6-7, 190-pound forward. Stanback signed his letter-of-intent in a small ceremony at the high school. Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani, who also coached Bruins forward Josh Shipp, said Stanback didn't mind taking a back seat, publicity-wise, to Love. "Chase knows what kind of quality post player Kevin is," Kitani said. "Chace is very happy to be playing with him."
While Howland made a splash when he signed local stars Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo and Shipp shortly after taking the UCLA job, Love is the first true big man national recruit Howland has gotten.
"Obviously, signing Kevin Love is a huge sign for our program," Howland said. "In my mind he's the No. 1 player in the country, hands down. I've watched him play 100 times if I watched him once and he has a lot of special qualities. He's the best passing and outletting big guy I've seen since Walton. He has a great skills level. He's extremely tough and he makes everybody around him better."
Love also has local roots. His father, Stan, an Oregon star and NBA player, played at Inglewood Morningside High. His uncle Mike Love was a member of the Beach Boys and Love's mother, Karen, grew up in Costa Mesa.
Love's high school coach, Mark Shoff, said Howland was around so much the last three years, "I thought he was a member of the faculty."
Howland at one point also got a verbal commitment from Santa Ana Mater Dei High's Taylor King. But King's commitment came before he had even played his first high school game and in May 2005 King rescinded his choice. Wednesday, King signed with Duke.
Howland said he had no regrets about accepting the word of a ninth-grader, adding, "I'd do it again in the right circumstances."
Two of King's high school teammates also signed Wednesday -- both with Pacific 10 Conference schools.
Point guard Kamyron Brown went with Oregon and 7-1 center Alex Jacobson signed with Arizona. Oregon also got Drew Viney, a 6-7 forward from Villa Park High. Austin Daye, a 6-9 forward from Irvine Woodbridge High, signed with Gonzaga.
USC is expected to receive a letter of intent from Leonard Washington, a 6-foot-6 forward from Lake Charles (La.) Washington-Marion High, though a school spokesman said probably no signings would be announced before the end of the signing period next Tuesday.
The UCLA women's team got letters from two 6-4 high school stars, Candice Brown from La Puente Bishop Amat and Regina Rogers, who led Seattle Chief Sealth to a 29-0 record and state championship last season.
USC, which had the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation last year, signed 6-5 Kari LaPlante from Glendale, Ariz., and 6-1 Stephanie Gilbreath from Katy, Texas.
\o7Times staff writers Jerry Crowe and Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.