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Love couldn't pass on a shot at NBA

Former Bruin is changing his body tone, but not his style, with Timberwolves.

July 18, 2008|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- When Kevin Love was in the eighth grade, his father, Stan, called a trusted friend, longtime college coach Jim Harrick, and said, "I think my son is really good."

"You're not one of those psycho dads, are you?" Harrick said.

Stan, a former NBA player himself, including a season and a half with the Lakers, told Harrick to come out and see for himself.

"Yeah," Harrick said after viewing the younger Love, "he is really good."

How good? Good enough to earn a trophy case full of awards as the top prep player in the country following his senior year at Lake Oswego High in Oregon. Good enough to average 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds in his only season at UCLA.

Good enough to be the fifth pick in this year's NBA draft. Good enough to be exchanged for O.J. Mayo as part of an eight-player deal between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies on draft night.

But is he big enough at 6 feet 10, strong enough at 255 pounds and defined enough with a frame that contained 15% to 16% body fat a few months ago to play power forward in the NBA? And even, when necessary, to fill in at center?

Could another year at UCLA have served him better in lifting his game to the professional level?

Not an issue, Stan Love says.

"When you can be the No. 5 pick in the draft," the older Love said, "and make X amount of dollars, you can't tell a kid to stay in school so he can get a better job. Not when he can get a job that will pay him more than his mom and dad will make in their whole careers. The advance Kevin got on his contract is more than I made in my four years in pro ball."

And it's not as if Stan was a journeyman at the bottom of the roster. He was a first-round pick, the ninth selection overall, by the then-Baltimore Bullets in 1971.

So Kevin made the biggest leap of his young life, from the storied Bruins to the Grizzlies, and then on to the Timberwolves, where he is beginning his pro education here at the NBA Summer League.

Love put up some impressive numbers Thursday night at Cox Pavilion, where his team won its first game after two losses, defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, 88-78. Love scored 26 points, and pulled down 15 rebounds with one blocked shot and only one turnover in 30 minutes. However, he made only seven of 20 shots and was 0 for 3 from three-point range.

He also showed off his biggest asset, a passing ability usually associated with guards, not forwards. Love can whip a ball from end to end with pinpoint accuracy, sometimes looking more like a son of Archie Manning than Stan Love.

"He sees 94 feet of floor all the time," said Jerry Sichting, who is coaching Minnesota's summer squad.

"He's a smart player," said Minnesota General Manager Kevin McHale, "and he's only going to get better as he plays."

McHale was one of Kevin's heroes growing up. "Kevin put on his game face and said all the right things when Memphis drafted him," Stan said, "but when he learned that he was going to McHale's team, we had to scrape Kevin off the ceiling."

Love remains a work in progress. He has dropped 15 pounds from the weight he carried at UCLA. He has lowered his body fat to 11%-12%.

And he is learning to cope with the speed of the pro game.

"That's the biggest adjustment," Love said. "That 11 seconds [from 35-second clock in college to 24 in the NBA] makes a big difference."

Nevertheless, Harrick was right. The kid looks pretty good.

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steve.springer@latimes.com

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