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After dominating as a prep in Oregon, Kevin Love is ready to play at UCLA -- and Bruins need to be ready for his passes

July 12, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

LAKE OSWEGO, ORE. — According to just about every organization that gave out an award for the nation's best high school basketball player, Kevin Love was the guy.

So, as he has just arrived in Los Angeles, ready to start what is expected to be a short but spectacular college career, Love is truly expected to be a big man on the UCLA campus.

He certainly looks the part -- 6 feet 10, 250 pounds, everything square.

Love looks as if he might be immobile or plodding on the court, but he isn't. His size-18 feet land lightly, barely making a sound. He makes court-length passes with a flick of the wrist, so fast and easily that some say he might be a top major league baseball prospect as a pitcher.

"That's true," says Mark Shoff, Love's high school basketball coach. "First time I saw Kevin as an athlete it was throwing a baseball. Kid's got a great arm."

But Love is also very definitely a polished basketball player, with a nuanced feel for the game that some players a decade older haven't mastered. He rarely finds himself in bad position, and what might look like a blind pass -- a little showing off -- is really not.

Stan Love, Kevin's 6-8 father, played at Oregon and then for the Baltimore Bullets and the Lakers in a four-year NBA career, so he usually gets credit for his son's all-around game.

But he doesn't take it. Stan says Kevin seems to have been born with a feel for when and where to throw the basketball.

That said, though, there was always a deep appreciation around the Love household for big men who could play. Kevin's middle name -- Wesley -- is a tribute to one of them. Wes Unseld was a teammate of Stan's on the Bullets.

Many basketball professionals, UCLA Coach Ben Howland included, say Love is the best passing big man since Unseld.

That means something to Kevin, because he appreciates basketball history. One of his favorite stories is about his dad once dunking on Wilt Chamberlain.

"Yeah," Stan says, "It's true. But here's the rest of the story: The next four times up the court Wilt was pointing at me and dunked in my face. Four times in a row."

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Visit the 1,800-seat gym set in emerald green perfection in this leafy Portland suburb and just imagine the bursting energy the Love-led Lake Oswego team must have generated during its past magical season.

Kevin must have been treated like a rock star, right?

"Ah, no," he says. "I don't think we sold out a game until halfway through the playoffs. You'd think maybe we could have drummed up some excitement at least in the first round. But this is a football school. I walk down the street and nobody looks twice."

Stan pipes up with a one-word explanation -- "jealousy." Kevin nods. It is that way with this father and son. Kevin says, "This year the fans kind of jumped on the bandwagon late," and now Stan is the one nodding vigorously.

"You'd think when you have a once-in-a-lifetime player," the father says, "that you might fill the gym."

If Love's basketball brilliance didn't attract fans to the games, it did nudge some into anonymous cyber chatting.

"Everybody likes to say this is a great place to raise a family," says Kevin, who was named the Gatorade boys' prep athlete of the year Tuesday, "but a lot of stuff goes on here, political stuff. I guess it happens everywhere if you're the best athlete or the best basketball player. People talk. Because I didn't go to Oregon, I think that made some people not appreciate me."

Stan may have rubbed some people the wrong way by being what one observer called "a little ubiquitous" in his presence around the team. Local papers reported Stan was angry with Shoff for not starting Kevin in a game during his junior season after he had been out with mononucleosis, but Ernie Spada, the father of Lake Oswego's point guard, said that spat was "over in an instant."

Spada recalls the school's gaining a reputation for failing to embrace extraordinary basketball talent long before Love arrived on the scene.

"Before Kevin broke the all-time Oregon scoring record, another Lake Oswego kid broke it, Salim Stoudamire," Spada says. Stoudamire, a guard, went to Arizona and now plays for the Atlanta Hawks. "I'm a basketball junkie, and when I realized [Stoudamire] was going to break it, I grabbed young Ernie and hustled over to the gym.

"I thought I'd have to sneak in, but the place was half empty. So Salim breaks the record, they stop the game and make the announcement, and maybe eight or 10 people stand and clap. This is a community that never knows what it has in basketball."

Spada, who coached Kevin in youth leagues, says Love was always popular with teammates. "Guys love playing with Kevin," he says. "Kevin's not a wallflower, and he's not shy about his talent, but he's also a great teammate."

If there are any hard feelings here about Kevin, Stan guesses that it's because he had played at Oregon, and fans assumed his son would follow. "When it was clear Kevin wasn't going to Oregon, I think some people turned off on Kevin," he says.

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