Love & Basketball
This article appears in the January/February 2006 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
When ESPN's "Cold Pizza" needed a stud baller from the Reebok ABCD Camp for its program last summer, Lake Oswego junior power forward Kevin Love was a natural choice because of his game, demeanor and beyond-his-years media savvy.
It's easy to see why Love felt so at home in front of the camera. His hype machine has been in overdrive since he became a local legend as a seventh-grader throwing down monster dunks.
With a father, Stan, who played in the NBA and an uncle, Mike, who was in The Beach Boys, Kevin Love knows what it's like to be in the spotlight. And with his basketball talent, it's pretty clear his summertime appearance on "Cold Pizza" won't be his last time on ESPN. It certainly wasn't his first time in the spotlight.
"His freshman year, during the first week of practice, we had reporters and newspapers around," Lake Oswego coach Mark Shoff says. "Everyone wanted to find out how good he was."
These days, there's no doubt.
Love is a 6-foot-10, 255-pound power forward who's rated the nation's No. 3 recruit in the Class of 2007 by SchoolSports.com. The versatile big man has a game that defies logic. He can power up over smaller defenders (which means just about everybody), but he can also step outside and hit from downtown when necessary. Last year, he averaged 26 points, 15 rebounds and five assists per game while leading the Lakers to a 21-8 record and a berth in the Class 4A state finals.
Shoff, who has been with the Lakers for the past 23 years and is in his 11th season as head coach, has coached the likes of Atlanta Hawks rookie Salim Stoudamire. And ever since he first saw Love play as a sixth-grader, there's been no doubt in Shoff's mind who his next star would be.
"It was amazing how skilled [Love] was at that age," Shoff says. "Big kids usually don't develop that early. They're usually clumsy or awkward. But he was always coordinated. He was sort of destined to be a great player."
Love's childhood makes that pretty clear. When other kids were watching Big Bird, Love was watching Larry Bird.
"When every other kid was asking for toys, I wanted Kevin McHale, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tapes," Love says. "I always knew playing ball was what I wanted to do. I have baby pictures with a ball in my hand playing on a little hoop."
"He had every one of those tapes and would watch them and then go outside and practice all of those moves," his father adds. "I knew he was going to be good in the seventh grade when he did a spin move on me and nailed me in the chest. He could battle me pretty good by then. By the ninth grade, I stopped playing him."
Love came up playing ball with his dad in backyard games that set the tone for his career. Although Kevin was dunking in the seventh grade, it wasn't until the eighth grade that he finally beat his father.
"[My dad] could still dunk then, and he had all those old-school cheating moves, with the clutching and grabbing," says Kevin, who's still wide open on his college decision and is looking at the likes of North Carolina, Duke, UCLA and Washington.
The younger Love will also never forget the time his father passed him the phone and NBA legend Connie Hawkins was on the other end. Love was so impressed that he now wears No. 42, the same as Hawkins.
"He's a real student of the game," Shoff says. "With most other kids, it's like, ‘Bob Cousy who? Bill Russell who?'"
Love got the education of a lifetime last summer. In addition to some face time on ESPN, he held his own while going head to head against some of the nation's top high school big men, including seniors Greg Oden of Lawrence North (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Derrick Caracter of Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass.).
When not battling the likes of Oden and Caracter, Love spent the summer playing against college ballers from Gonzaga and Oregon State. He came away from those sessions knowing he could play with those guys at the next level but needed to get stronger if he wanted to dominate.
So when Love came back to Lake Oswego for his junior year, he was all business.
"Just watching him this fall, he turned his work ethic up a couple of notches," Shoff says. "He was working out twice a day with weights and on his agility. His will to be the best player in the country is the thing that drives him. He doesn't want to be good, he wants to be great."
So Love started dominating each practice the way he dominates games. His eyes are already on the bigger picture — college and beyond — and he's become a great leader through his new dedication.
"For any coach, if your best player is also your hardest worker, it makes it really easy," Shoff says. "Last year at practice, everyone knew he was the best player, but he would only do what he had to do to get by. Now, if he has an opportunity to lay it up or dunk it, he's going to dunk it every time."
Love missed the first half of last season with a knee injury and spent the rest of the year playing his way into shape. Even though Shoff estimates Love was only about 70 percent healthy, he was still dominant enough to lead the Lakers all the way to the state finals before losing to Jesuit.
And now that he's healthy?
"I'm looking forward to a monster year," Love says. "Most definitely, I'm looking for all my hard work to pay off."
Which means Love is hoping to get a shot at the state title this season. He knows a lot is expected of him, but that doesn't bother him.
After all, he's spent his whole life living up to great expectations.