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Seth Davis
July 24, 2006
Summer of Love
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July 24, 2006

College Basketball

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Summer of Love

A strong showing during recruiting season has rocketed blue-chip big man Kevin Love to the top of the class of 2007

Kevin Love was six years old when he got his first opportunity to perform on a big stage. He and his family were at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup to watch Kevin's uncle Mike Love sing lead for the Beach Boys. Toward the end of the group's set Uncle Mike invited his family on stage, putting Kevin on the spot before 20,000 fans. "He brought us in front of the microphone, but I got so embarrassed nothing came out of my mouth," Kevin recalls. "If I get that opportunity again, I think I'd be a little more poised."

Kevin doesn't envision any more music gigs in his future--"I definitely didn't get the singing gene," he says--but he is already showcasing his other talents before a growing audience. A 6'10", 250-pound senior from Lake Oswego (Ore.) High, Love possesses impressive strength, refined skills (his shooting range extends beyond the three-point line) and an uncanny feel for the game, which is why many experts rank him as the top big man, if not the No. 1 overall player, in the class of 2007. Love's abilities have been on full display during the annual summer evaluation period for blue-chip recruits; he was voted a player of the week at the Reebok ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J., earlier this month, and his AAU team, the Southern California All-Stars, is favored to win the Big Time Tournament this week in Las Vegas.

Love has been intensely recruited since he was a freshman. Last March he narrowed his choices to UCLA and North Carolina. He says he will announce his decision during the November signing period. "If he goes to UCLA, he could be a double-double guy as a freshman and still lead the league in assists," says one Pac-10 assistant coach. Adds longtime recruiting maven Bob Gibbons, "Love is the most skilled big man I've seen in the last 10 years. He has the determination and desire to work as hard as he can to be the best he can be. That's unusual nowadays."

Love might not have inherited his uncle's musical DNA, but he got terrific hoops genes from his 6'8" father, Stan, who played at the University of Oregon from 1969 to '71 before spending four years in the NBA. "Kevin's better than I was, even after playing in the pros," Stan says. "If you're a basketball purist, he's fun to watch because he really knows how to play the game."

Kevin swears he remembers tossing basketballs from his walker into a hoop when he was a toddler. ("I probably made around 60 percent like I do now," he quips.) When he was in grade school, he spent hours at a time watching the highlight videos of NBA players that his father bought him. He also routinely dominated the practices in which his brother, Collin, who is two years older, participated.

Kevin's approach to basketball became more serious after he entered high school. On a typical school day during the off-season he rises at 6 a.m. so he can have a high-protein breakfast (usually two eggs and a shake) and then get in two hours of weights and shooting drills before his first class. He heads back to the gym when classes are over. Last summer his parents hired a personal trainer to oversee his development. "I decided I didn't want to be good anymore. I wanted to be great," Kevin says. "That takes work, and I know wherever I go to college I'm going to have to work a lot harder to get where I want to go."

Stan, who grew up in Los Angeles and still has a lot of friends and family there, clearly hopes his son will end up at UCLA, but he says it will be Kevin's decision. While playing in Gibbons's Memorial Day tournament in North Carolina last May, Kevin took an unofficial visit to Chapel Hill that included a meeting with Dean Smith and pickup games against current and former Tar Heels. Kevin insists that being so far away from his family wouldn't be a deterrent to playing for Carolina. "The distance from home has nothing to do with basketball," he says. "The important thing is where I fit in best. In the meantime I'm enjoying the recruitment. You only go around once, so I'm going to love it while I can."