Kevin Love: Monster Of The Board

His mission is as simple as his numbers are beastly: To become the NBA’s most dominant, albeit unsuspecting, double-double machine the League has seen in decades. And in only his third season as a pro, Kevin Love, the pride of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ organization at all of 22 years old, did just that. K-Love does have the numbers to warrant our increased national gaze, but his gaudy statistics along – try 20.2 points and 15.2 boards a game – don’t even do the big fella enough justice for how massive an impact he made across the League this year.

On Nov. 12 against New York at home in Minneapolis, Love grabbed the nation’s attention – as well as a few rebounds – and never looked back. In the T-Wolves’ 112-103 win, Love devoured the visiting Knicks for 31 points and 31 rebounds, becoming the first player to go for at least 30-and-30 since Moses Malone in 1982. That same year, Malone was also the last player to average at least 20 and 15 for an entire season – the same averages K-Love matched in 2011.

He’s rebounding at such an incredible rate – almost a board every two minutes he plays – that you might have overlooked the fact that the 6-10, 260-pound forward has also increased his offensive output from everywhere on the floor, including shooting 45 percent from three. And while he finished second to Dwight Howard in double-doubles with 64 on the season, it’s astounding to think what he can accomplish in the future. But more than any accolade or statistic, Love showed that there is promise in the struggling Timberwolves. He has demonstrated that there is light at the end of a tunnel that hasn’t seen anything remotely luminous since Kevin Garnett was shipped off to Boston in 2007.

Despite Minnesota only winning 11 of their first 47 games this season, Love’s monster effort was codified when Commissioner David Stern selected him to replace Yao Ming in the All-Star Game in mid-February. Bucking the trend that team success trumps personal achievement, Love’s selection could be the catalyst to a winning record in the North Star State. And as he prepares to bring the T-Wolves past the bleakness of Lottery selections and complacent fandom to a land of sell-outs and playoff programs, there will be only one number the kid from Lake Oswego, Ore., cares about: championships.

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Dime: There have been lots of new faces in Minnesota this year. How’s the season been so far in your eyes?
Kevin Love: It’s definitely been up and down. You know obviously the win column isn’t as high as we’d like it to be, but we feel like we’re playing good basketball. We’ve had a bunch of games where we’ve played three to three-and-a-half great quarters of basketball and we kind of lose it there at the end of the game. So it’s been a little bit up and down, but we’re very excited about the young team that we have. We have a ton of cap space and obviously we have another draft, so things are looking up for us and we’re only going to get better from here on out.

Dime: So what’s changed with you now that you’re in your third year?
KL: I just think more than anything it’s been opportunity. You know with Al Jefferson leaving, it opened up a lot of space for me to work and grow as a player. And obviously I’m playing seven, eight extra minutes so there’s a lot to do in those seven, eight extra minutes that you’re out there. Most of the time that you get better is not only in practice, (it’s also) out there in a game. So I’ve really taken just a leap in my confidence and a leap in my game through all of those different things.

Dime: You worked out with trainer Rob McClanaghan in the offseason. How did your game and game preparation change coming into this year?
KL: Well Rob has been huge for me. I’ve put a lot of work in with Rob during the summer with guys like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. And for myself and Rob, he throws me in with the guards on certain days doing their drills, from the perimeter and also from the high post, and he also throws me in with the bigs as well. So he’s been really great for helping my game and taking it to the next level, and I look forward to working with him the rest of my career. But I think more than anything this summer, he really worked on my shot. And that’s why you see guys like Derrick Rose shooting the three-ball so much better and Russell Westbrook with his pull-up jumpshot and me kind of with my all-around game shooting the ball.

Dime: Your three-point shooting has added a whole new dimension to your game, but your bread and butter remains your rebounding. Is that where you take the most pride in your game?
KL: Yeah definitely. I mean if I didn’t stay out and shoot some of those threes that I do, I probably could average maybe 16 or 17 rebounds. Depending on how much I’d be in the game still. But with that said, I figure my bread and butter has always been rebounding. I think coming into the League, I wasn’t featured as much on the offensive end, so I thought one thing that I could always do to stay in the game was rebound – and that’s always on my mindset. Just go after every ball and assume (every shot) is a miss. Just try to get every single ball.

Dime: You grew up in a basketball family, as your father Stan [Love] was a former NBA player. Were you always groomed to be a rebounder coming up through the ranks?
KL: (laughs) Yeah I actually was. Funny story is that I would always throw fits and beg my dad to let me play football and he would never let me play. He would say, ‘you’re gonna get hurt, your future’s going to be in basketball, we’re not going to let you play,’ and so I threw all these fits and one day he finally grabbed me and took me into the paint when we were in the gym and said, ‘this is going to be your football. And this is going to be where you draw blood from guys’ elbows and you’ll have your chance to take out all your anger right here in the paint.’ So that’s kind of what my mentality has always been and that’s why when you see me get elbows to the face or I draw blood or that sort of thing, it doesn’t phase me at all, I just keep going in there and keep trying to get every single board. So that’s kind of been my mindset and the process for me rebounding from an early age. I learned it all through my dad.

Dime: In that mold of tough, physical rebounders, who were the guys you watched and idolized growing up?
KL: I really like guys like [Charles] Barkley and Karl Malone. I used to watch old school tapes of the Showtime Lakers and the Boston Celtics. I was a really big fan of Kevin McHale, who I was lucky enough to be coached by and picked by my rookie year, so I was very, very excited about that. I think old school players like that are the ones that I kind of look at and try to emulate.

Dime: This season if you pull down 13 or 14 boards in a game, it’s actually hurting your average. Because you’re getting more attention now, is it putting more pressure on you to rebound the basketball in such volume on a nightly basis?
KL: Uh somewhat. You know you see different guys, it’s funny, it’s like cause I’m averaging – I think I’m averaging the most offensive rebounds in the League – but you see guys safeguard me now or sending two or three guys at me at a time. But that’s freeing a lot of stuff for other guys during the game for offensive rebounds and even open looks. So for me, I just look at it as an advantage. If you have so much attention on me, that’s going to free us up and hopefully that will turn into winning more ball games. You know, that’s kind of how I look at it, but it is kind of funny that I set the standard that 15 rebounds is kind of a normal game for me. People tend to forget that 10 rebounds is a great game.

Dime: Now that you’ve had a little time to digest and think about your 31-point, 31-rebound game, what does that achievement mean to you? Do you consider it a benchmark that now you know it wouldn’t be absurd to do it again?
KL: I mean that was a great game, probably one of my top-5 games of my career at any level, but I look at it like it could potentially happen again. You know obviously there’s going to be a lot of 20-20 games in my future and a lot of big time scoring nights, a lot of big time rebounding nights but as far as another 30-30 game, that will definitely be tough, but don’t be shocked if I do it again. Cause I plan on getting in a groove like that again and hopefully sooner rather than later.

Dime: How’s the reception in Minneapolis been this season? Has it been different from your first two years?
KL: Yeah it definitely has; it’s been a lot different. I think people know that, definitely fans know, that we’re right there. It’s only going to take a little bit of time to turn that corner as a franchise and we are right there. I think, like I said, people can feel it, and we have so much talent on our team and we are so young, I mentioned all of the stuff that we have working for us, things are only looking up. And I think the reception around the Target Center this year has been great because people know that.

Dime: Do you ever think about how life might have been different had had you stayed in Memphis?
KL: Yeah, I do. I think that I would have also had a lot of success on that team, but I think everything definitely happens for a reason. And I think I’m at where I’m at now for a reason and things are only going to look up for me from here on out.

Dime: Was going to Minnesota and eventually having those things happen like you talked about – Jefferson being moved and minutes freeing up – kind of the perfect storm for you as a young big man?
KL: Yeah, I think the whole maturation process for me has been great. I think just every year I’ve continued to improve and now with Al gone, it really opened up a lot of room for me to grow even more so. It opened up a lot of opportunity for me and allowed me to play extra minutes, and it’s only going to help me for the rest of my career. Plus Minneapolis and Minnesota as a state is a great place to live and I’ve very happy with where I’m at now. And like I mentioned, in every way going to continue to improve.

Dime: Likewise what did your one-year at UCLA do for your game and maturity process?
KL: It just helped me to be kind of a consummate professional. It helped me to see what the media was like and what the professional lifestyle was going to be like. You know you can’t really replicate playing at a high level like that in the Pac-10 and also playing at UCLA; definitely the most storied, as far as tradition goes, the most storied university and even program in the whole country. That in every way definitely prepared me for what was to come. I guess you could say despite an 82-game season, 82-games plus.

Dime: Would you say that was always your plan – have one great year in college and then make the jump to the pros? Are you on the same path, goal-wise, where you want to be in your third year?
KL: Yeah I think so. I knew it was going to be hard work making it to the NBA, but also hard work every single year just to get better. I think this far into my career, I’m happy with where I’m at. I kind of saw it going this way and if I was ever allowed the opportunity, I was going to take full advantage of it. As far as UCLA goes, I always thought if I had a great year in college, I was going to leave if I was a top-5, top-10 pick and it happened to work out that way and I was very blessed.

Dime: Have your goals and expectations of yourself changed at all moving forward now that you’re seeing more of what you’re capable of at such a young age?
KL: No, I would say that I’ve always kind of known what I was capable of. So for me, I don’t think my goals have changed honestly. I wanted to have a big impact on this League and wanted a chance to be a star, and I think if I just keep on this same pace that I’m on now and continue to improve during the season and even in the offseason, and keep working how I do, then…I’ll be able to take that next step.

Dime: And you’re still only 22 years old, is this still sort of surreal – after all of your dreaming and hard work, you’re finally doing damage in the NBA?
KL: I mean it is surreal. I think anybody that kind of says anything else is lying to you. Because there are so many bumps that you could’ve hit throughout the road or things that could’ve gone wrong. But you just prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And I think at the end of the day, like I said, I’m very blessed for where I’m at and all of the hard work and the people in my life and all that kind of stuff has really paid off. I was steered in the right direction and had a good base of family and friends around that helped me. So it is kind of surreal.

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