YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

NBA, former UCLA star Kevin Love tries a day at the beach

With the NBA lockout keeping him from his 'day job,' 6-foot-10 Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love is giving beach volleyball a shot. He'll play at the Manhattan Beach Open this week.

August 21, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan

Deron Williams has signed with a team in Turkey, Leandro Barbosa has agreed to play in Brazil, and Kobe Bryant is rumored to be playing everywhere but Easter Island.

In a summer of NBA lockout uncertainty, Kevin Love is choosing to play somewhere different as well — a few steps south of the Manhattan Beach pier.

The Minnesota Timberwolves forward will be there later this week, trying to break ground in a sunnier, sandier corner of the sports world at the Manhattan Beach Open.

At 6 feet 10, he might be the tallest player in the beach volleyball tournament, but his experience is limited. He never played volleyball in high school or at UCLA, meaning the last few weeks have been his first in the sport.

"To try and cross over in any sport, especially in a small amount of time, you don't realize how tough it is," Love said Sunday. "Getting in the sand, getting that ball hit at you with all the topspin they put on it, my respect for all the players went through the roof."

Despite its laid-back reputation as a bunch of dudes from the dunes, beach volleyball isn't as easy as it appears.

Shaquille O'Neal looked foolish and immobile when he tried it a few years ago for his short-lived TV show. O'Neal partnered with Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Todd Rogers but lost to two-time women's gold medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor.

Love looked infinitely more mobile than O'Neal in recent practice sessions and pounded the ball down numerous times. He must, however, improve his passing, or "bumping," skills. He knows it.

"I have the timing down with the hitting and my setting's pretty good. My blocking's decent just because it's like playing at the rim in the NBA, but my passing and my serving are subpar," he said. "I'm going to get out there a couple more times during the week and try to get it done."

Love was recently on an NBA-themed beach volleyball team at a popular six-on-six amateur tournament in Manhattan Beach. Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar and Richard Jefferson were also on the team, but most of the volleyball was played by former pro beach players.

This weekend's tournament will be a two-on-two format, providing less room for error. The court looks much larger with only two people on it.

"It's just a matter of whether he can use his height to his advantage," said Eric Fonoimoana, a gold medalist in beach volleyball at the 2000 Olympics. "Obviously, it's going to be tough to get the ball by him at the net, but the skill set is completely different when you get on that sand. You're never balanced because of the sand. And then let's throw in some wind."

Love has plenty of people in his corner, including former Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis, who lives in Manhattan Beach and has been known to play beach volleyball during the summer.

Rambis' son, Jesse, has worked out with Love in recent weeks and provided the elder Rambis with solid reports.

"Kevin's very coachable. He can take what you say and put it into action," said Kurt Rambis, who coached Love for two seasons in Minnesota. "He's athletic and has size, but what he needs is experience. Jesse said he was a lot better the second day than he was the first day. That's kind of who Kevin is in terms of his coachability."

Love will be helped by a relatively strong partner, Hans Stolfus, who is 6 feet 5 and has played in several pro tournaments. There won't be as many top-notch pro players at this year's event because of a competing international tournament in the Netherlands.

The Manhattan Beach Open, dubbed the Wimbledon of the sand, was historically the top stop on the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour, but the AVP folded last season and left the pro beach volleyball circuit in flux.

USA Volleyball took over a handful of tournaments this summer, including Manhattan Beach, with sponsorship provided by Jose Cuervo tequila.

Love is being paid an undisclosed sum of money by sponsors to play in the tournament, which starts Thursday and ends Sunday. Houston Rockets forward Chase Budinger is also expected to take part in it.

Win or lose, Love, who turns 23 next month, hasn't turned his back on basketball after becoming an All-Star last season.

He will be in the last year of a contract that pays him $4.6 million next season. The lockout isn't showing any signs of ending soon, but Love is working out with All-Star guards Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook several times a week in Los Angeles.

He has also been working hard on the sand.

"Obviously, I know that we're not going to go out there and win," he said, smiling. "I'm just looking to have a good time and try not to embarrass myself too badly. I wanted to try a new sport during the lockout when there's time. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. That's kind of the way I look at it."

Los Angeles Times Articles