|UCLA All-American Love plans to leave early for the NBA|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 17 April 2008 12:55|
Less than two weeks after leading the Bruins to the Final Four, the All-American freshman announced Thursday that he'll skip his final three college seasons and enter the NBA draft.
``I feel like I'm in the right spot to take my game to the next level,'' Love said Thursday. ``Since I was 5 years old this has been a dream of mine.''
Love made his announcement at a news conference while sitting between his father, former NBA player Stan Love, and UCLA coach Ben Howland.
The 6-foot-10 Love said he did not immediately plan to hire an agent, which would temporarily allow to keep playing for UCLA.
``I want to maintain my eligibility in case something happens,'' Love said. He later added that it's ``definitely a possibility'' that something could prompt him to change his mind.
Love led the Bruins in scoring (17.5 points) and rebounds (10.6) on the way to a 35-win season and a trip to national semifinals, where UCLA lost to Memphis.
Love impressed many with his strength - in practice, he made full-court shots with two-handed chest passes. He was known for his sharp outlet passes, court smarts and leadership qualities.
Scouts have projected Love to be a top-10 pick in the June 26 draft, Howland said.
``We fully expect that he'll be a very high draft pick,'' Howland said. ``We're behind his decision 100 percent.''
Love said he spent the two weeks since the Final Four getting advice from Howland, former UCLA coach John Wooden and teammates in a similar spot.
Last week, Love returned home to Oregon to mull over his choices with his family. The nephew of Beach Boys member Mike Love called his year at UCLA was ``the best of my life'' both on the court and around campus, but said the NBA was too much to resist.
``If you have a chance, you have to take it,'' he said.
Love's teammate, sophomore guard Russell Westbrook, also said Thursday that he's headed to the NBA, as had been expected.
``Russell Westbrook has worked very, very hard to put himself in a position where he could be a first-round draft pick,'' Howland said. ``I haven't had a player who improved more in one year, ever, than Russell.''
Westbrook said that if it looks as though he'll go lower than about the 20th pick in the draft, he'll likely return to school. Players who don't hire agents can back out of the draft as late as June 16.
Howland said he's facing more uncertainty than he ever has in an offseason, but called the presence of so many potential NBA players ``a good problem to have.'' He said he was lucky to get Love for even a season because in previous years he could well have gone straight the NBA.
Darren Collison, the team's junior point guard, has yet to decide whether he'll stay or go. The deadline for underclassmen to declare is April 27.
``He's not in any hurry,'' Howland said of Collison.
Love said his performance and his team's healthy run through the Pac-10 season and the postseason tournaments pushed him toward leaving.
``The second half of the season really decided it for me,'' he said.
Love said he will be happy whoever drafts him, but if he had his druthers he'd like to stay home - or one of his homes anyway.
``Obviously, I'd like to go to Portland, it's my hometown,'' he said with a grin. ``Or I'd like to stay here in Los Angeles, and have one of these teams take me.''
Love said he had prepared a written statement but instead spoke off the cuff, loudly and with a smile, as he did most of a season when his production and infectious personality made him a local - then a national - celebrity.
He also drew constant comparisons to former UCLA big men Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. Love said Thursday he plans to use those two, along with UCLA alum Jackie Robinson, as his model for how to stay involved with the school after he leaves.
``I'm looking to leave a legacy at UCLA,'' he said.
Love's father sat looking considerably shaggier than his short-haired, suit-and-tied son.
``I'm trying to get this guy to dress better,'' Kevin Love said.
``It's his coat,'' Stan Love replied.