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Egos that balloon can pop too soon

Thank goodness the big decision has been made and the world can now get back to business as usual. Yet to embark on his senior year of high school, young Kevin Love of Lake Oswego has decided where he's going to college.

Praise the Lord and pass the basketball shoes.

I've got nothing against Love or his family. In fact, I've counted his father, Stan, a friend for many years. I think every once in a while Stan can get carried away, like all fathers. And now that his son is on his way to a big-time school to play hoops, the old man ought to fade into the background a little bit. Maybe even keep the cheap shots at the Ducks to himself - they're doing no one any good.

But Stan's a big boy and doesn't need my advice. I'm a little concerned about Kevin Love, though. Concerned for all young people who are working their way through the incredibly sick system of basketball-player development in this country.

I say 'development' because it sounds better than exploitation, although the latter term may be closer to the truth.

Since he was old enough to dribble a basketball - and show people he was going to grow to be nearly 7 feet tall - Love has been a Special Person. Of course, we all want our children to feel special, but I'm not sure we want that self-esteem so closely tied to a round hunk of leather filled with nothing but hot air.

Love has been fussed over and catered to by sneaker companies and colleges for years. You can assume, if you like, it's because of his winning smile, glowing personality, outstanding intellect and caring nature. I'd probably go ahead, though, and figure it's because those people someday think they can make a buck off him.

Which they might. If they haven't already.

But I'm not sure he needed all their help to get where he is today, headed to UCLA - hey, an Adidas school! - to play college basketball.

All you need to know about this whole mess is that Sonny Vaccaro - now pimping shoes for Reebok - was the master of ceremonies for Love's news conference Tuesday. Vaccaro is comfortable in the role of ringmaster; he's been taking charge of young people's lives for years - not selling shoes but selling himself. The kids love him.

In the end, those kids - stars in their little world - usually wander the Earth in whatever basketball shoes and gear Vaccaro is peddling at the time. OK, whatever. That works great for Vaccaro's company, and he's not the first person to make a buck off the sweat of some 19-year-old. In fact, Reebok doesn't provide shoes for either the Bruins or North Carolina, the finalists in the Love Connection Sweepstakes.

For the record, Love chose Adidas over Nike. I don't know what that means in the long haul for Love - but I guess, when he turns pro someday, if he's so fortunate, we'll find out whose shoes he'll model and thus find out who won the real Love Sweepstakes.

What really worried me at the news conference, though, was something Love said. He mentioned that when he told UCLA coach Ben Howland that he was going to attend his school, the Bruin coach 'almost started crying he was so happy. I think he's walking on air right now.'

I don't even know what to say about that. I hope Love was misreading Howland because I worry that a college coach would be moved to tears by an announcement that a player would attend his school. It can't really mean that much to him, can it? Man, Roy Williams, the Carolina coach who didn't sign Love, must be inconsolable.

Or perhaps not.

The remark just didn't sound right to me, coming out of a kid's mouth who has yet to finish high school. You have to realize that Love's been getting advice for years on how to handle himself. Or rather, he's had a lot of grown-ups telling him how wonderful he is.

He's turned out pretty well - better than most kids thrust in the middle of the sneaker companies' frenzied search for the next Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson or Dwyane Wade.

And with all the complimentary shoes, gear, trips, camps and ego massages that Nike, Reebok and Adidas basketball gurus pass along to young basketball players, they probably don't spend a lot of time bothering them with lessons in humility.

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