Net gain: Love gives volleyball a try

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – The man strolling down the beach spied the promotional girls in Jose Cuervo bikinis and short shorts cheering on the volleyball game, gave the entire scene a curious look and had just one question:

“Is that Kevin Love(notes) playing?”

Yes it was. With the NBA lockout nearing the end of its second month, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love found another sport to occupy his time. The NBA All-Star made his pro beach volleyball debut in the Manhattan Beach Open on Thursday morning, teaming with veteran Hans Stolfus as they lost to the tournament's most formidable tandem: Sean Scott and John Hyden.

“I’m going to use a little Malcolm Gladwell here," Love said of the popular "Outliers" author. "I have my 10,000 hours in, in basketball. And they have their 10,000 hours in, in volleyball. So I need to start working my way up. But that’s going to take some time.

“But who knows – six, 12, 18 months if I keep playing, I think I could be decent. …I’ll definitely go out there and have fun. More than anything, it’s an excuse to go to the beach.”

The nephew of Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love, Love decided to try beach volleyball about a month ago. He enlisted the help of pro volleyball player Jesse Rambis, son of former T'wolves coach Kurt Rambis, to help him learn the basics. Love suffered a minor injury to his ankle and cuts during training when a competitor landed on his foot.

Wearing black shorts and a black T-shirt, Love's 6-foot-10 frame made him an imposing figure at the net. His athleticism, height and strength made it easy for him to spike, but with no real volleyball experience, his physical attributes could only take him so far against the dominating top-seeded Olympic hopefuls.

“For not having played before, he was pretty good,” Scott said. “Just like any sport, it takes years to master a lot of things. He has to work just on ball control, just the passing and a lot of reps.

“For our sport, there are a few big guys, but not as wide or as big as he is. It’s tall, really lanky, skinny guys. He’s a big kid.”

Said Love: “It was definitely tough going against the best team in the country. I was hoping they'd take it easy on the serve. When you play to win and the wind becomes a factor and the ball is coming at you, and they are basically spiking it from the serve and there is a knuckleball coming at you, it’s not easy to pass on first hit.”

Love is open to playing more volleyball, but is still concentrating primarily on his real job: basketball.

He's dropped his weight from the 260s to 240 pounds, and believes he can still be a physical rebounder. He recently took part in a promotional basketball tour in China, and has been working out with trainer Rob McClanaghan six days a week in his offseason home in L.A. He's doing yoga a few times a week.

Love said he has little interest in playing on a professional basketball team overseas during the lockout, but is expected to participate on a barnstorming tour with other NBA players in October in China and the Philippines. He is also taking a summer course at UCLA and might enroll for fall classes if the lockout hasn't ended.

“I just don’t think it’s good for business if we don’t have a season,” Love said. “Hopefully, there will be something that happens. All the players really want to play basketball. Hopefully, we can work out the right deal.

“You hear December, January, there’s not going to be a season. I think we anticipate missing games. Training camp is right around the corner, but all we can do is keep on a steady path and hope to make some leeway.”

The Timberwolves are looking for a new coach to replace Rambis, and have interviewed Rick Adelman, Terry Porter, Mike Woodson, Don Nelson, Larry Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff. Love played on the same high school team in Oregon as Adelman’s son.

“I’ve heard rumblings for different coaches,” Love said. “But as far as right now, I’m going to sit back and let the front office take care of that. I’m not really partial to anybody. Brown is obviously intriguing and Adelman as well.

"I used to love watching [Adelman’s] offense, obviously at Houston, but also watching him in Sacramento running that corner offense when it was Vlade [Divac], [Brad] Miller who made those passes over the top. From a selfish standpoint running the pick-and-rolls and being able to really facilitate the whole offense from the high post – and I’d be able to play everywhere on the floor – I think that is intriguing in itself.”

The T'wolves had the NBA’s worst record last season with only 17 victories. Their roster is built around several young players, including Love, No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams(notes), rookie Ricky Rubio(notes), Wes Johnson(notes), Michael Beasley(notes) and Anthony Randolph(notes).

"We need to get time on the floor, especially with Derrick and Ricky – and really all the guys," Love said, "because we’ve really blown up our team in the past couple of years."

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