Kevin Love is like a rock star headlining a cross-country tour, except it’s what he can do with a basketball and not a guitar that has fans shrieking in envy.
Love, a 6-foot-9 1/2 center from Lake Oswego, Ore., is coming to Los Angeles on Friday night, playing Compton Centennial at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, his future home court.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s my hometown where I was born and where I’m going to be reborn.”
Love, who signed a letter of intent with UCLA last month, is supposed to be the next coming of Bill Walton in the way he plays the game.
In particular, Love’s outlet passes after rebounds are so swift and stunning that coaches gush over them.
“It’s amazing,” said Bob Gibbons, a North Carolina-based talent evaluator. “It really looks like a Peyton Manning pass. It’s a different shaped ball, but it’s on target.”
Taylor King, the Duke-bound senior from Santa Ana Mater Dei who played on Love’s club team over the summer, said, “He has the best outlet pass I’ve seen at the high-school level. He’s so dominant and so versatile. He can shoot the ball from three-point range better than any big man I’ve seen.”
It only seems natural that Love would develop his outlet pass, along with his three-point shooting skills, because his middle name is Wesley -- his parents named him after five-time NBA All-Star Wes Unseld, the former Washington Bullets center whose quick outlet passes and aggressive rebounding were part of 1970s NBA lore.
“It’s a gift I’ve been blessed with,” Love said.
There’s so much to admire about Love, who doesn’t have a posse following him around, doesn’t have an entourage of advisors other than his parents, doesn’t have any tattoos and doesn’t worry about where he’ll end up in the legacy of UCLA centers. He’s respectful, polite and addresses his elders as “Mr. Walton” or “Mr. Jabbar.”
“The goal is not to be the greatest player,” he said. “It’s for our team to be the greatest.”
Those are words that have UCLA Coach Ben Howland counting the days until Love puts on a Bruins uniform.
Howland will be watching when Love and his Lake Oswego team take the court at 8:30 p.m. Friday as part of a four-team tournament at Pauley Pavilion. The other game matches Los Angeles Verbum Dei and Los Angeles Murphy at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.
Love returns to Southern California on Feb. 2, when Lake Oswego plays Mater Dei as part of the Nike Extravaganza at Mater Dei.
It should be interesting to compare the crowd size and the buzz it generates to those of the last two games at Pauley Pavilion that featured teenage basketball standouts.
In 2003, LeBron James helped draw 12,000 as a high school senior when his Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary team played in a tournament. The next year, Dwight Howard and Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy were the featured attractions when 6,000 came to a tournament at Pauley Pavilion.
Love isn’t as flashy as James or Howard, but his game is so fundamentally sound that respect is quickly earned.
“Kevin Love would be the poster boy for what a junior high player wants to become,” Gibbons said. “He’s the most skilled big man I’ve seen in more than 30 years of evaluating players.”
Lake Oswego is off to a 3-0 start, and Love has been magnificent. He scored 38 points and had 28 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots in his opening game. He came back to score 28 points and grab 22 rebounds in his second game and added 36 points and 19 rebounds in his third.
Love plays hard at all times and understands how he is supposed to act on and off the court, thanks to help from his father, Stan, who played for Inglewood Morningside, Oregon and the Lakers.
“He always taught me to keep it inside the line, be the meanest dude on the court and be gracious off the court,” Love said.
Love weighs 250 pounds, 10 pounds less than he weighed last season, after working to improve his athleticism and quickness.
“I’m trying to run the court better, step out a little bit, come off picks,” he said. “I’m more versatile.”
That’s a scary thought, considering that two summers ago, Love played against Greg Oden, Ohio State’s freshman center who could be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA draft, and Love more than held his own.
Now he’s the high school center everyone wants to emulate.
Just remember what motivates Love.
“I play for the love of the game,” he said.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at email@example.com.