Love Looking Like the Nation's #1

O.J. Mayo has been regarded as the consensus top player in the land in the Class of 2007 for quite a while, but Kevin Love, one of UCLA's top recruiting targets, is making a valid case for passing Mayo as numero uno...

Hold the Mayo because we're giving plenty of Love. You heard it here first. Kevin Love, and not O.J. Mayo, is the best player in the Class of 2007. OK, it's just one man's opinion, but here are the facts.

Love is a new man. A year ago, he had to sit out the championship game of the Kingwood Classic because his knee was still bothering him.

Now he's in the best shape of his life. Gone is the knee brace. So too is the baby fat. He's far more mobile. He's working out twice a day and dieting.

"I'm a completely different player," Love said. "With my body and my game."

The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Love may not be as dominating as this past season's numero uno, Greg Oden, on the defensive end in terms of his athleticism and shot-blocking abilities – but he's just as effective on the glass and is better on the offensive end because of his playmaking skills.

We're not selling Oden's ability to pass out of double teams short. It's just that Love may just be the best big man passer to come along since well … ever.

Whether it's a pinpoint bounce pass to a cutting Taylor King or a flick of the wrists on a 70-foot outlet to a leaking Brandon Jennings, Love has no peer.

One Hall of Fame college coach this past weekend even put him in the same sentence as Wes Unseld in terms of their all-around games.

"I think he's better than Greg Oden," said teammate Taylor King.

We're not taking anything away from Mayo, who is everyone's top-rated player. Well, maybe we are – but that's not the intent. Mayo has become a circus act of sorts. The traveling show made its way to Houston this past weekend because he said he wanted to win the Kingwood Classic – his "favorite tournament."

Come clean, O.J. If you wanted to win, why'd you hook up with the Miami Tropics? The only chance he had of winning this tournament was to join Love on the Southern Cal All-Stars.

Mayo is a terrific talent, but not only is he no LeBron, but he's not even the top player in the class in this writer's opinion. He has the ability to make people better, but Love is a better passer – even though he's a center and Mayo a point guard.

Mayo can shoot the ball from the perimeter, but Love is virtually unstoppable with a bevy of low-post moves that no one in the country possesses. Love can also step out and knock down shots from mid-range and even the perimeter. When it comes to defense, it's a non-story. Love simply dominates the boards while Mayo is an average defender.

While Mayo is the consensus No. 1 guy in the country, Love has a bigger impact on his team now and that will continue in college. If a high school or college coach could pick just one player from the class of 2007 to give him the best chance at winning, it'd have to be Kevin Love. The Lake Oswego, Ore. native is not just dominant, but he's also a team player and a winner – as was evidenced this past weekend.

There's a valid case in that Mayo is the better pro prospect, but that's far from a given, either.

"Sure, I'd like to be the number one guy," Love said. "But I respect O.J. He's a respectable number one player. He has so much to his game and is beyond his years."

Love will make one program – either UCLA or North Carolina – extremely happy. If Ben Howland had Love this past season (and he was more than ready to produce at the college level), there just might be another banner hanging at Pauley rather than the first one going up in Gainesville. Howland is so enthralled with the Portland big man that he has offered to allow Love to wear his trademark No. 42 – which was worn by former Bruins great Walt Hazzard.

"It's unfair what [Love] does," one Division 1 head coach said. "He's so skilled it's scary. There's nothing he doesn't do."

Love is said to be a lean to Howland's Bruins, but he has yet to visit his other finalist – the Tar Heels – and will tour Chapel Hill after he plays in the Tournament of Championship during Memorial Day weekend and is in no rush to decide his fate.

"It'll be my first time seeing North Carolina, so we'll see how that goes," Love said. "I'm looking forward to it. I've been talking to Coach [Roy] Williams a ton and I've been talking to Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington a ton over IM."

"But I'm going to ride it out," he added. "I'm going to sit down after the summer and figure it out. Right now I'm just trying to get better. You haven't seen anything yet."

Actually, we've seen plenty.

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