|Whole lotta Love takes UCLA all the way to Final Four against Memphis|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 03 April 2008 12:53|
Expectations were already outsized when Kevin Love walked onto the Westwood campus as the greatest high school player in Oregon history. The 6-foot-10 freshman was the coveted big man the Bruins had been lacking since Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar starred on John Wooden's teams in the early '70s.
``I've heard the comparisons. Those are unfair, because they are probably the two best college players of all time,'' Love said. ``Those are the hardest footsteps ever to follow in college basketball.''
But he's trying.
Love chose UCLA ahead of North Carolina and quickly won over the Bruins' demanding fans, dazzling them with old-school outlet passes, 3-point scoring and low post moves.
He's kept his cool all the way to the Final Four, where Love wants to give the Bruins a record 12th national championship before likely heading off to the NBA draft.
``It's been the ride of my life,'' he said.
Love thrives on playing the biggest games under the hottest spotlight, which makes Saturday's national semifinal against Memphis his ideal situation.
M in the second round.
``He came in with so much expectation and hype,'' UCLA coach Ben Howland said. ``To have all that on your shoulders and not only reach all the expectations and exceed them, he's been incredible.''
Love has learned to play Howland's style of hard-nosed defense, something that wasn't necessary in high school, where he ``just sort of stood around and got easy baskets and waited for rebounds,'' he said.
The turning point in Love's memorable first, and likely only collegiate season came against Texas in early December. The Bruins were beaten by two points at home, their first loss, and Love played just 24 minutes - nearly 10 minutes less than the other starters.
``I wasn't doing that great on defense. Lorenzo (Mata-Real) had to step in being a fourth-year guy,'' Love said. ``From then on, I just tried to study film and listen to my coaches.''
Unlike most of the team, Love has been injury-free throughout the season, except for tweaking his back in the Pac-10 tournament. He's scored in double figures in all 38 games, including 23 double-doubles, with 16 of those in the Bruins' last 22 games.
He stepped into one of the best situations any freshman had in the country. Love has a strong supporting cast, with backcourt mates Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook and forwards Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Josh Shipp already veterans of back-to-back Final Four appearances.
``I was still a little bit nervous if I was going to be accepted on the team,'' Love said. ``They took me in as part of the family, and there was never any mixed emotions or jealousy about it.''
Having most of the attention on him is ``a little weird sometimes,'' Love said. If he's on a podium with his teammates, Love will pass a question directed at him to one of them.
``He's a team player and for a youngster who had so much publicity in high school, the ability to not let it go to his head,'' Wooden said. ``I've been very impressed with him as a player and as a person.''
Love's signature outlet passes, rarely seen in college anymore, have made countless TV highlights and prompted older UCLA fans to tell him, ``I used to see Walton throw that.'' Against Xavier in the West Region final, he stood on the baseline and fired a pinpoint pass the length of the court to Westbrook, who made the easy layin.
``He's got the arm of Elway. Westbrook sprints like he's Jerry Rice,'' Memphis coach John Calipari said. ``There's potential, and there's performance. He performs.''
Love honed his passing skills by watching cable replays of Magic Johnson during the Los Angeles Lakers' ``Showtime'' era of the '80s and doing drills with his father Stan Love, a former Oregon star who played in the NBA.
``He gets joy like a Magic Johnson or (Larry) Bird from making a great pass,'' Howland said.
So does Stan, who takes unabashed pride in his youngest son. Dressed in Bruin blue, he frequently jumps up to cheer and pump his arms in the stands. Wife, Karen, wears Kevin's No. 42. Having Kevin at UCLA has reunited the entire Love family, whose Southern California roots run deep. Kevin was born in Santa Monica before Stan and Karen moved to Lake Oswego, Ore., where he grew up. His uncle Mike Love formed the Beach Boys in the region famous for its beach culture.
The Loves rent an apartment in the same complex near campus where Kevin lives with brother Collin. Their teenage sister Emily has turned up at games, as has Mike, Stan's brother.
The younger Love used to be embarrassed about his uncle's music. Mike teased him that Love was just worried about losing his street cred. ``If I listen to it,'' Love said, lowering his voice, ``what will my friends think?''
Now Love embraces his family's musical heritage. He lists ``Good Vibrations'' and ``California Girls'' as his favorite Beach Boys songs. Least favorite? ``Surfer Girl.''
Ever the contrarian, he said, ``I don't like that one because it's my dad's favorite.''
Love said his uncle was going to try to make Saturday's game. The Beach Boys are on an eight-date United Kingdom tour, with shows in London on Friday and Cardiff, Wales, on Sunday.
``What is he thinking? Who makes his schedule?'' Love joked. ``He's going to try to either pay off the show or do something to get out here. This is a pretty special time for my family and for myself as well, so he's going to try.''
Love and his teammates will go for the school's 99th NCAA tournament victory against Memphis on Saturday. He figures to be the center of attention again.
``No matter how much press I get, no matter what people say about me, I'm just going to be Kevin, the nice kid that my parents raised me to be,'' he said.
Maybe a national champion, too.