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Awards pile up for Kevin Love

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lake Oswego’s Kevin Love received Gatorade’s player of the year award Tuesday. He’s shown here receiving the award from a Gatorade representative during a ceremony held at Lake Oswego High School. It capped an incredible run for Love, who made a virtual clean sweep of the nation’s top awards.

What do Kevin Love, Greg Oden, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Stephon Marbury, Chris Webber and Alonzo Mourning all have in common?

That's easy. They were all named Gatorade's national prep basketball player of the year. Love received that award during a ceremony held Tuesday at Lake Oswego High School.

It capped an incredible run for the Lakers' 6-foot-10 center, who made a clean sweep of virtually all the top national awards this year. In addition to the Gatorade award, Love also won player of the year honors from McDonald's, Parade Magazine and the Naismith award from the Atlanta Tipoff Club.

Tuesday's award ceremony capped a three-and-a-half week road trip of award banquets and all-star basketball games.

'Someone said my dad (Stan Love) must have a broom out in the car for all of the awards that I've swept,' Love joked after receiving the Gatorade trophy.

The Laker center always dreamed of becoming a star on a national level but winning a trophy case full of awards wasn't exactly part of the plan.

'It feels great,' he said. 'But I couldn't imagine this when I was going into my first practice as a freshman.

'But it's truly humbling. And I have great company - LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Greg Oden … It just feels great to have that kind of company.'

It probably helped that Love was a product of good genes. As most people know, his father was a star center at the University of Oregon and was a first-round draft pick of the Washington Bullets. Stan played a big role in helping develop Kevin into the player he is now.

'Since day one, when he put the ball in my hands when I was in the stroller, I've always been shooting baskets,' Kevin said. 'And I was always hitting 70 percent, just like I do now.

'He's been great,' Kevin added about his father. 'He's not only been my biggest inspiration in my basketball life, but in my life in general. He's just been the best and I look up to him more than anything.'

The younger Love was an instant success, starting with the first game of his freshman season. In that game, Love did everything against a visiting Canby team. He scored on an assortment of inside moves, hit a few long shots, then added some blocked shots and a couple of behind-the-back passes. He then finished his opening night with a thundering one-handed dunk on a fast break. Members of the student body immediately began chanting 'He's just a freshman.'

Indeed he was, but he was not ordinary freshman.

Love wound up being voted to The Oregonian's second-team all-state squad that season, but he probably deserved to be on the first team. It hardly mattered, though. The next year, he wound up being voted the state's player of the year even though he played only half of his team's games that season because of a slow rehab following minor knee surgery.

And he was named player of the year again as a junior, the year Lake Oswego won its only state championship. Without Love, the Lakers would have been hard-pressed to win that title.

The Lakers made it to the title game again this season, making it the third straight year that the Lakers advanced that far with Love leading the way. The Lakers fell short in that game against South Medford but the championship trophy was about the only thing Love failed to bring home this year.

'Our accomplishments as a team were great,' Love said. 'We did make it to three championship games in a row. And I was lucky enough to win one of them.'

He finished the year with another player of the year award and he broke the state's 50-year-old career scoring record. Even while being double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed, Love still managed to score 33.6 points per game this season while averaging 17 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.

Even before he amassed those incredible numbers, Love had college basketball coaches (many of them famous) lining up at his door, waiting to offer him a scholarship. His father's alma mater was never really in the running, much to the chagrin of Ducks fans everywhere.

Instead, he picked UCLA, calling it a chance to return to his roots (he was born in Santa Monica, Calif.). Love figured it was his best chance to win a national title, which has long been one of his goals.

The big question now is how long will Love stay at UCLA? Will he leave after his freshman year and bolt for the NBA, allowing him a chance to realize possibly the biggest dream of his lifetime?

'Oh, wow. That depends,' he said. 'I've got to work as hard as I can this summer and during the season to be the best player I can be. When it's all said and done next year, I'm going to have to step back and really assess my options.

'But it's going to be tough, because I love (UCLA coach) Ben Howland and I love what he's done with the program … And all of the players are so great. It would be tough to leave there.'

Would winning a national title his first year at UCLA hasten Love's move to the NBA?

'Oh, that would be really tough to say,' he said. 'Maybe we would come back and win another one, but who's to say.'

One thing is for certain, though. Love will definitely miss all of his friends, teachers, coaches and family members when he leaves Lake Oswego. Virtually everyone he has been close to during the last four years was in attendance when he received his award on Tuesday, and Love thanked every one of them for helping getting him to where he is now.

Then, after making his acceptance speech, Love grabbed a cooler full of Gatorade that was sitting on the stage and handed it out to all of his Lake Oswego teammates.

It was his last big assist as a high school player.