Commentary

Soak up the one-and-done experience of Love

Originally Published: March 28, 2008
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- Mike Love co-wrote "California Girls," which just happens to be Kevin Love's favorite Beach Boys song.

[+] EnlargeKevin Love
Frank Victores/US PresswireKevin Love scored 29 points and grabbed 14 boards for UCLA.
"It's self-explanatory," said the UCLA freshman center.

But Love's actual days in California -- and with the cutest girls in the world, as his uncle's lyrics go -- are numbered. Turn to your One-And-Done team photo and you'll see Love. He'll be the one right next to team captain Michael Beasley.

The countdown to the end of the wonderful but much too brief Kevin Love Era continued Thursday night at US Airways Center. Including UCLA's nervous 88-78 West Regional semifinal win against Western Kentucky, the magic number is either one, two or three more games. After that, it's time for Love to start practicing his photo-op handshake with NBA commish David Stern.

It will take a miracle -- or, basketball gods forbid, an injury -- to prevent Love from bolting Westwood for NBA hardwood. He might not be truly ready, but since when does declaring for the draft have anything to do with being ready?

Of course, don't tell that to 12th-seeded Western Kentucky. It didn't know what to do with him, or against him. It'll take days to remove the scuff marks Love left on the Hilltoppers from his baby blue shoes.

D.J. Magley, a 6-9, 260-pound freshman, couldn't handle him. And 6-7, 225-pound senior Boris Siakam wasn't much of an annoyance. Love had him by at least 30 pounds.

Love's linescore was overpowering and telling: 10-of-14 from the floor, 9-of-12 from the line for 29 points. There were also 14 rebounds, 4 blocks and 4 assists.

"You know, I'm sitting here and we just take it for granted," UCLA coach Ben Howland said of Love's numbers.

The No. 1-seeded Bruins needed those points and rebounds, especially after Western Kentucky, which trailed by 21 at halftime, closed the lead to four with 6:57 left to play.

He said, 'Soak it up all that you can.'

--UCLA's Kevin Love on Beach Boys uncle Mike Love's advice

"We lost focus a little bit," said UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who clearly isn't fully recovered from a sprained ankle.

Love didn't. As junior Darren Collison fouled out (his fifth came on a WKU 3-point attempt) in crunch time, Love played with the calmness that his point guard lacked. He plays older and with an intuitive sense of the game. He understands.

It isn't official that he's history, but put it this way: His apartment landlord might want to get the "For Rent" sign ready. A friend of the family, retired Wall Street executive Joe Macchia (who was at the game Thursday evening with Love's parents), is the designated clearinghouse for all inquiries from player agents. Macchia's phone rings a lot.

"Coming from Wall Street, it's easy to say no," Macchia said.

I have no idea how high Love would go in the draft. Somewhere between Nos. 6 and 10 seems to be the consensus. But high. High enough that Stan Love, Kevin's dad, talks about the risk of injury and about an NBA salary structure that encourages one-and-dones.

"You're forced out if you're any good," he said.

Kevin Love is good. When people say he's the best outlet passer since Wes Unseld, it isn't an exaggeration.

"He can stand out of bounds and slam it off the other backboard," Stan said.

With a chest pass. Try that during your intramural game against the fellas at Sigma Chi. You'll be lucky if you can reach the half-court line.

If it were up to Stan and UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, Love would have two choices: go directly from high school to the NBA, or be required to stay at least two years in college. Instead, the NBA split the difference: one season.

It's a dumb rule for all sorts of reasons. Guerrero said Stern and the NCAA are discussing alternatives.

"I would say that the dialogue will continue to be active," Guerrero said.

In the meantime, Love, who would have chosen UCLA out of high school regardless of the rule, continues to kick some bracket butt. Just watch him.

It doesn't seem like much, but his hands are always up in perfect pass-catching position when he flashes through the lane. He puts a defender on his hip, seals and scores. He didn't hit any treys Thursday night, but his 3-point stroke is pure. And he threw a nice little over-the-shoulder outlet pass to Russell Westbrook early in the second half. Westbrook missed the layup, but James Keefe (18 points, 12 rebounds off the bench) cleaned up the mess.

[+] EnlargeKevin Love
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonLove's value could be seen his passing game against Western Kentucky.

Love's shoulders, arms and wrists look like a herd of cats attacked him in his sleep. On Thursday night, his white game shorts featured splotches of blood.

Love got hammered a half-dozen times against Western Kentucky -- good, clean, hard fouls -- and didn't say a peep. Didn't even make a face.

Earlier this season at Oregon, he was berated by Ducks fans still angry about his defection from his home state to UCLA. Sports Illustrated ran a photo of an Oregon fan shooting Love with both barrels of middle fingers. The fan's dad saw the photo, wrote the magazine and said he had taken away the kid's car.

"Really?" said Love, clearly enjoying how things worked out. "Karma is a -- you can fill in the blank."

Love doesn't get mad, he gets even -- and then some. UCLA beat Oregon twice. Love had a combined 41 points and 29 rebounds.

It's obvious Love is sweet on college hoops. But being Joe College has its limitations. That's why Love and his famous Beach Boys uncle have discussed the pros and cons of going pro. After all, Mike Love turned pro when he was about 19.

"They became world-famous within a year," said Stan Love.

The Loves aren't about fame or money. But Stan has seen how that combination can alter a life. Now his son knows, too.

"You kind of lose your youth in the transition," Kevin said. "It's like [Mike Love and the rest of the band] were playing at the garage of my dad's house, and then everything changed when they signed a contract."

Mike Love called late Thursday night from Florida, where he had a gig with the Jacksonville Symphony. He caught the UCLA game at a sports bar.

"I think they're trying to send me into cardiac arrest," he said.

Mike said Kevin has dedicated himself to basketball "since he was in a stroller." So when you ask him about the decision between UCLA and the NBA, Mike speaks from experience.

"I think he's doing what he loves to do," he said. "But if a person is able to get the kind of economic benefits for turning pro, it sounds to me like it's almost irresistible."

Sounds to me like a decision has already been made.

Still, Mike gave his nephew one piece of advice.

"Soak it up all that you can," he told Kevin.

Weird how this works out. UCLA plays Xavier in Saturday's Elite Eight. That means we get the rarest matchup: Love versus Love. Kevin versus Xavier backup center Jason Love.

Whatever happens, Love is savoring the moments, however long they last. And maybe it was a coincidence, but the UCLA pep band played an oldie goldie during the game.

That's right.

"California Girls."

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter