Love, Team USA begin courtship
Kevin Love's solid shooting, passing and rebounding are good fits for Team USA
Love says he believes he can be a 'glorified role player' with Olympic squad
As a rookie, Love averaged 11.1 points and 9.1 boards per game with Minnesota
He was a major recruit out of high school who played for a major program in college and became a lottery pick after one starring season at UCLA. His uncle is a Beach Boy, his father a former NBA forward. He has a bouncy personality and leads a double life as a reporter, breaking the news via Twitter that Kevin McHale was out as Timberwolves coach, another jealous professional athlete trying to crash the media world of money and groupies.
This is the guy under the radar?
Yes, this is the guy.
Without much public acclaim, without serious backing as a young star of the game, without a great deal of notice in the Twin Cities in a summer dominated by nonstop roster moves and wonder over the next Ricky Rubio development, Minnesota power forward Kevin Love has ascended into an ideal and legitimate candidate to join the Dream Team. Maybe as soon as 2010 for Turkey and the world championships, maybe with the slight delay of '12 and the Olympics in London, but it's a real chance at some point.
Love was always an ideal candidate, actually. His game and his makeup are too perfect for international play and for the USA Basketball bosses who want a few role players to mix in with the glamour: good shooter for a big man, great passer, a rebounder to start the fast break, advanced court sense. That's the international game.
It's just that now he's a legitimate candidate. Love had a good showing at the Team USA minicamp last month in Las Vegas -- despite early foul trouble that kept him to 17 minutes in the one game -- and reinforced his status as fundamentally sound, smart and the prototype international player, according to someone associated with the team. He is not a great defender, but did well handling the pick-and-roll, and the United States sees a ton of pick-and-roll. He is not athletic, but Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have said many times they are not looking only for decathletes.
"I just think the glorified role player is something I can be," Love said, his campaign literature ready. "That guy who does a lot of things and makes everyone better."
Among the prospects who gathered in Vegas as one step to eventually making the next Dream Team (the roster that won gold at the Beijing Games got the summer off), Kevin Durant was the clear star. He's bound for Turkey, bound for London, bound for another few rotations with USA Basketball. Nobody else put themselves in position for the future the way Durant did. But Love likely put himself among about 25 players who, sometime close to the start of the regular season, will be on a working list for 2010, probably along with, in no particular order, Rudy Gay, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo.
The Love twist is that he's the furthest from a headliner among that group with a good chance to be invited back. When a leaguewide vote of assistant coaches determined the rosters for the rookie-sophomore game at All-Star weekend, he got passed over despite leading all first-year players in rebounds and the entire league in offensive boards per 48 minutes. When head coaches picked the All-Rookie team after the season, he received the seventh-most votes despite trailing only Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor for total offensive rebounds while averaging 11.1 points in just 25.3 minutes. All of which makes him a pretty good newcomer in the eyes of the experts. Nothing more.
The USA Basketball list is fluid and can and probably will change during 2009-10, before invitations are sent out for Dream Team training camp next summer in Las Vegas. Blake Griffin, forced from the July sessions by a shoulder injury, is enough of a prospect that it wouldn't be a surprise if he jumped ahead of Love with a showcase season as a Clipper. Or Love, headed toward being a full-time starter in Minnesota after making the opening lineup just 31 times last season, could average a double-double and make the smart play more as a 21-year-old than a lot of veterans. The course of careers could be changing in the next few months.
"It's a huge deal for me," Love said. "Priority No. 1 for me is a successful season with the Timberwolves and winning there. Outside of that, making USA Basketball is a priority. Playing for Coach K and wearing 'USA' across my jersey is a huge deal for me."
The list of 25 or so includes the core of the reigning Olympic champions, the kids hoping to fill the four or so spots expected to turn over from Beijing and, not to be forgotten, NBA veterans who have not been on the national team. Chauncey Billups -- shooter, point guard, quality guy -- is a candidate for the backcourt that will likely replace Jason Kidd and Michael Redd. Lamar Odom -- versatile, ball-handler -- could be as unique a dimension for international play as for the Lakers and earn a spot.
That group will be boiled down to about 16 for the training camp. Those players will drill in Vegas and then tour their way to Turkey, with two or three exhibitions in the United States and two or three more in Europe to reacclimate themselves to the international game and the time change. Finally, the 16 will be trimmed to 12 within days of the opening of the world championships.
The second half of his rookie season and the minicamp moved Love into position to challenge for a spot. The same guy who, at the moment, has been in the league one season and didn't make the rookie game or the All-Rookie team. The same guy with 31 starts.
The same guy somehow under the radar.
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