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Sources: Love to leave UCLA

Times Staff Writer

Kevin Love has probably played his last game for UCLA and will make himself available for the NBA draft, sources close to the player said Tuesday. While a source said junior point guard Darren Collison had also decided to leave early, Collison said Tuesday night that he had not made any decision on his plans for next season.

“I haven’t made up my mind at all,” Collison said. “I don’t have a decision yet.”

Sources said UCLA Coach Ben Howland was told of the decisions Monday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make an announcement until after Howland holds a season-ending news conference this afternoon.

Love, a 6-foot-10, 270-pound center, led the Bruins with averages of 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds. The freshman was Pacific 10 Conference player of the year, a first-team All-American and most outstanding player of the NCAA regional at Anaheim. Collison, a junior point guard, was a third-team All-American.

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Love could not be reached for comment; his father, Stan, deferred to Howland; and Howland did not make himself available.

Most NBA draft experts project Love being chosen anywhere from sixth to No. 13 overall, and that is the information Howland gave Love, sources said.

NBA team officials risk seven-figure fines for speaking publicly about college players, but an East team scout said Love had raised his draft position steadily during the Pac-10 season -- from a possible low first-round pick to a lottery pick. And even being held to 12 points and nine rebounds in a 78-63 UCLA loss to Memphis last Saturday in an NCAA semifinal didn’t change that.

“That was one game,” the scout said, “and as a team UCLA couldn’t run its offense.”

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The Bruins have been prepared to lose Collison since last spring, when the former Etiwanda High standout first considered testing his NBA status.

Collison, 6 feet and 160 pounds, played two of the worst games of his college career in UCLA’s last three games. Against Western Kentucky, he fouled out trying to guard Hilltoppers guard Tyrone Brazelton, who scored 31 points and torched him during a second half when the Bruins blew most of a 21-point lead. Then, in the loss to Memphis, he fouled out again, having scored two points with four assists and five turnovers in being dominated by Derrick Rose, a 6-3, 205-pound freshman.

However, an NBA Western Conference team official said, “I thought he was a mid-first round pick [before Memphis]. I think he still is. That’s what his talent says to me.”

The sources said both players planned to remain in good academic standing, so their leaving early would not potentially cost the Bruins a scholarship. Programs that do not meet certain NCAA requirements for graduating players risk such penalties. Because UCLA is on a quarter system and instruction in the spring quarter started just last week, both players may still withdraw from classes without penalty.

Love is expected to return to his family’s Lake Oswego, Ore., home later this week before coming back for UCLA’s team banquet on Monday.

The Bruins may also lose Russell Westbrook, a sophomore. He played opposite Collison but moved to the point when Collison was injured early this season.

One scout projected Westbrook as a possible lottery pick, and the guard’s family has indicated that he would probably leave school if expectations were that he would go early. He had a career-high 22 points against Memphis and, at 6-3, 190 pounds, was the one UCLA player suited to run, jump and bump with the Tigers.

It’s also possible the Bruins could lose as many as four other players.

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Debbie Shipp, mother of redshirt junior Josh Shipp, said it was too soon to make a decision about his future, though her son’s two-month long shooting slump and the fact he has had surgery on each of his hips the last two years make him a questionable prospect for the draft’s first round. Only players picked in the first round are guaranteed contracts.

Junior Luc Richard Mbah a Moute may, like Shipp, make himself eligible for the April 27 draft, not hire an agent, be evaluated, then come back to school.

Junior Alfred Aboya, who will earn his degree this summer, has indicated he may not use his final year of basketball eligibility and concentrate on getting a master’s degree. Sophomore reserve Nikola Dragovic said he is considering going home to Serbia to play professionally.

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Times staff writer Mark Heisler contributed to this report.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com


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