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Young Love

• Lake Oswego freshman's talent leaves many in a state of disbelief

LAKE OSWEGO Ñ He is 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, and he's going to get bigger. He can pass and shoot and rebound and block shots, and there are those who think he will be the best big man in Oregon high school basketball this winter.

The mind-boggling part of the equation: He just turned 15 in September.

Let the college recruiting wars begin.

Lake Oswego freshman Kevin Love -hasn't stepped onto a court yet for his first varsity game Ñ that will happen Dec. 2 at home against Canby Ñ but already the legend is spreading.

The son of former University of Oregon great Stan Love Ñ and the nephew of Mike Love of the Beach Boys Ñ has caught the notice of college coaches throughout the country. In a shoebox in his bedroom, he has a stack of letters from nearly 30 universities, including Duke, Michigan and most of the Pacific-10 Conference schools.

He visited with new UCLA coach Ben Howlands over the summer and attended the Oregon-Michigan football game as a guest of Oregon basketball coach Ernie Kent.

Young Love has size 18 feet and a wingspan of 83 inches; the doctor projects him to grow to 7 feet. His favorite player is Shaquille O'Neal, 'because he is like Superman on the basketball court,' but Stan envisions Kevin playing more like Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki.

College is a long way off, but Duke Ñ 'that's been like my dream school forever,' Kevin says Ñ would seem to have a head start on the others.

In August, Kevin led his United Salad team to a runner-up finish in the 172-team National 14-and-under AAU Tournament in Orlando, Fla.

'No question, Kevin was the best player there,' United Salad coach Ernie Spada says. 'We rode him to the max. He was unstoppable. He put up big game after big game. He was a man among boys.

'Kevin will be the best player in the (Three Rivers) league this season, and one of the three or four best in the state, and I'm not exaggerating. Softest hands I have ever seen for a kid his size. He's going to be one of the best players ever to come out of this state.'

Praise comes from all over

Spada is hardly a lone voice in the wilderness. Lake Oswego coach Mark Shoff understands that he is working with a prodigy.

'I don't know if there's going to be much competition for him this season Ñ not only at Lake Oswego, but anywhere,' Shoff says. 'You hesitate to offer all these unbelievable accolades about a freshman, but you can see he is a special type of a player. There's no real weakness to his game.'

The best player Shoff has had in his nine years' coaching at Lake Oswego is University of Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire. Love -isn't in his league yet, but É

'Salim has proved he is one of the better guards in the nation at Arizona, but they give the big money to the centers,' Shoff says. 'The thing about Kevin, he can do so much more. He can dominate the game not only in scoring but also with his shot-blocking and rebounding ability.'

Steve Johnson, a volunteer assistant coach with the Lake Oswego varsity, was an All-America center at Oregon State and a 10-year NBA veteran and ex- Trail Blazer. He has enjoyed teaching the post game Ñ yes, that includes Johnson's signature hook shot Ñ to Love.

'There are so few true post players who don't mind going down low and doing the dirty work,' Johnson says. 'Kevin does that for us, though he doesn't have to. He has an inside/outside game and three-point range. The best thing about him is his rebounding and outlet passing. I've never seen anybody at any level who can outlet pass like Kevin can. He is supercompetitive, too. He's just good.'

Shoff has asked Johnson's father-in-law, former Blazer director of player personnel Stu Inman, to watch Love at practice and pass on his observations. Inman has a hard time believing what he has seen.

'I hate to lean on superlatives,' Inman says, 'and I am not a scholar on the history of high school basketball in Oregon, but I question whether there has been a better freshman post man than Kevin Love.

'The thing that jumps out at you is his physical presence, but also his sense of how to play the game, which is extraordinary. The game is easy for him. He's an incredible passer. He's a plodder in a general sense, yet nobody beats him downcourt. He kicks the ball out on the fast break as well as anybody I have seen in high school, whether a freshman or a senior.

'His temperament is good. He's driven. You're not sure what you don't like about him, and that worries me sometimes. We're all human, we all have shortcomings, and you have to keep reminding yourself that he is only 15.'

Healthy, hungry and humble

In a lot of ways, Love is your typical teenage boy. His bedroom is a mess. He got a 3.2 grade-point average for his first quarter at Lake Oswego Ñ not bad, but not genius material. He likes Eminem and Denzel Washington, and he has a girlfriend.

Love stands out on a basketball court, but he's also one of the guys. Often, the teammate guarding him during practice is his older brother, Colin, a 6-3 junior. Colin has every reason to be jealous of the attention his younger sibling receives Ñ but doesn't seem to be.

'Doesn't bother me at all,' Colin says. 'It's family. He's my brother, and I'm going to support him. I don't see him having a big ego at all, even though he knows how good he is.'

That Kevin does. And he's not exactly lacking in confidence.

Asked if he thinks he can dominate at the high school level, he answers, 'Yes, sir, I think I can.'

Does he think he can be the best player in the state this season? As a freshman?

'Yes, sir, I do.'

He says it with bright eyes and a smile, and he nods when it's suggested it would be easy to get carried away with himself.

'My head is on my shoulders, and that's where it's going to stay,' he says. 'It won't be hard. I'm cocky, but it's not going to show. I have a good group of friends who keep me grounded.'

Kevin's biggest goals for the season are team goals Ñ to win the league, to win the state championship. Shoff says he already is a team leader.

'The guys all listen to me,' Kevin says. 'They know I'm very good. I should take a lot of leadership.'

Stan Love isn't concerned about his son getting a big head.

'He can handle the attention,' Love says. 'We come from an entertainment family, so we're used to it.'

Shoff and Johnson have stressed what they call the 'three H's Ñ stay healthy, be hungry, be humble.'

'So far, Kevin has shown all three,' Shoff says.

Kevin's mother, Karen, says Kevin has always had compassion for lesser-talented teammates. She recalls a Little League all-star game in which he was pitching, but his regular catcher was injured.

'The replacement was petrified to be in there, and Kevin threw the ball so hard,' Karen says. 'In the last inning with the score tied, Kevin threw a fastball with a runner on third, and it got by the catcher. The run scored, and we lost the game. Afterward, the boy was crying, and Kevin went up to him and said, 'Don't blame yourself. It was my fault. I threw the ball way too hard.' In youth basketball, if his team was way ahead, he would always make sure every kid on the team scored at least one basket.'

Dad has a ball

While it's not all about Kevin, then, he seems to thrive on being thrust into the limelight.

'I like it a lot,' he says. 'It puts pressure on you, but it makes you want to work harder for certain things.'

Everyone agrees that Kevin works hard on his basketball game. Colin has a variety of interests in his life. Kevin is pretty much focused on one thing.

'It has been Kevin's life,' Karen says. 'In his free time, he watches basketball. It has always been that way. He wanted a TV with a video player in it so he could watch tapes of all the greats. Even when he was young, he would pop in a tape of Larry Bird or Kevin McHale before he went to sleep.'

Stan Love marvels at his son's talents. Stan is 6-9 and weighed about 210 during his four seasons as an NBA player, two each with the Baltimore Bullets and Los Angeles Lakers. There is no comparison between father and son as a player at the same age, he says.

'Not even close,' Stan says. 'He is off the charts compared to me. I didn't even dunk until I was a sophomore.'

Kevin says his biggest influence as a player is his father, who has worked with him since he was barely out of diapers. Now, his father mostly sits back and watches the results.

'I'm having a ball,' Stan says. 'It's exciting. Who would have ever thought I would have a kid this talented playing basketball? Kevin is on the national map. That's wild.'

All before he has scored a basket or grabbed a single rebound in his high school basketball career. The Kevin Love story is just starting, and there will be much more to tell before it's through.

Contact Kerry Eggers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..