WESTWOOD, Calif. — "I don't quite look the same."
That was Kevin Love's smiling reaction to one of several pictures of him around UCLA's athletic complex, as he returned to campus for the Bruins' senior night during NBA All-Star Weekend.
His current figure wasn't the only new thing in Westwood—he came back to check out the Kevin Love Athletic Performance Center for the first time since its opening this season. The upgraded weight room in the Mo Ostin Basketball Center was made possible by Love's financial contribution in Sept. 2016, which matched the largest donation ever by a former basketball student-athlete in school history (the other being his former UCLA teammate, Russell Westbrook, who the new practice court is named after).
Love's overall tour was his first around the entire Bruins athletics concourse, checking out the Wasserman Football Center, tennis courts and entire Mo Ostin Basketball Center, where he privately met with the team in the locker room before it faced Oregon. At one point, he stopped to admire his name among the Basketball Center donors, and pointed out another one: his uncle, Mike, a founding member of The Beach Boys. Love was accompanied by his sister, Emily; girlfriend and SI Swimsuit model, Kate Bock; best friend, Ernie Spada; longtime business consultant, Shannon McGauley; and Cavaliers assistant coach, Phil Handy.
Before watching the Bruins defeat the Ducks and making a speech in the first half following a video tribute, Love sat down with The Crossover's Jared Zwerling in the Athletic Performance Center. They discussed his impact on campus, college memories, special bond with Russell Westbrook and other UCLA teammates, and return this season to the Cavaliers.
Jared Zwerling: What are your first impressions of the Kevin Love Athletic Performance Center?
Kevin Love: It's unbelievable. I mean, I only knew the space from what I saw on photos, but as a number of people mentioned, photos don't really do it justice. So to be here and to see it in the flesh is special. I mean, we walked up on some of the steps and it was the floor of Pauley Pavilion. It happened to be right next to the Pyramid of Success and John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood. So I guess outside of it, I'm in great company walking up the steps and then coming in here, it's pretty surreal to see. When you make a donation and you give back to the school, it's cool to see it all and kind of what comes of it. So this is pretty special right now.
JZ: When you see your college photo in the weight room, thinking about your look then and now, what goes through your mind?
KL: [laughs]. I mean, being a sports performance center and me wanting to get into health and wellness when I retired, being in health and wellness now, it's funny to look up there and see me a few pounds heavier, a different haircut as well. But this is something I always saw myself doing, so to be able to do it is pretty special.
JZ: Overall, what's it like being back on campus 10 years since you left for the NBA draft?
KL: It means a lot. I know that I only spent one year here, but the impact that UCLA has had on me has been monumental. And the things that I've been able to do from growing up and having spent my year back here in 2007–2008 was so big. And I wouldn't be where I'm at today, I wouldn't be able to do something like this without meeting the people that I did, and having a great coach like Ben Howland, meeting Russell Westbrook, playing with Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Luc Mbah a Moute, and just forging those relationships with all my teammates and all my coaches throughout that year. So this is a special place to be. I feel like it's sacred ground. I can't believe that all this kind of came into fruition and I'm here on senior night. They're playing Oregon; it's a lot of fun to go back to Pauley and see those guys.
JZ: What does it mean to provide this impact after being at UCLA for just one season?
KL: It's great. I mean, it's pretty surreal that 10 years into the league, I'm here now and standing in the gym that I feel like I helped build, and this Athletic Performance Center is truly special—and what Mo Ostin and people like him were able to do. You have the Russell Westbrook Court downstairs. It's unbelievable to be able to have this type of impact for future basketball players on both the men's and women's side.
JZ: When you were walking through the campus, what thoughts and memories did you have?
KL: It's a lot of nostalgia and a lot of great memories from back in the day. And when I say 'back in the day,' it seems like it was yesterday. But you see a lot of the new buildings and you see where UCLA has kind of came from in the last 10 years. And it's just surreal to be back here and, as I mentioned, I'm almost at a loss.
JZ: You were saying during the walk that everything feels so different than when you were here. In what ways?
KL: Just the freshness and the newness of it all. I think it could be really a new age for UCLA basketball. I know there's been a number of golden ages, and every time I look at John Wooden, I think of the groundwork he laid back in the '60s and '70s. So I think this is really a great space where recruits and young players and players that are here are really going to have a chance to get better. And I think that's what we're looking forward to—setting those guys up for the future.
JZ: What stands out from your Final Four run in 2008? You even played Derrick Rose's Memphis team and you guys were recently teammates.
KL: I think it was the first time I believe in the NCAA tournament that all four teams were No. 1 seeds. So our road to the Final Four was almost short-lived. We almost lost to Texas A&M in the round of 32, but we went on to play Western Kentucky, which was Courtney Lee, played Xavier and then we made it to the Final Four. We ended up playing a Derrick Rose team that was very very tested, very very good, and on the other side was Kansas and North Carolina. So that was another moment in time that I wish I could go back to, maybe if a couple things, a couple balls would've bounced differently, we could've won. But all four No. 1 seeds, that was a crazy time.
JZ: Did you and Derrick reminisce about the matchup when you were teammates in Cleveland?
KL: Yeah, of course. And during that time, there was actually a game where I thought Russell had a breakout game, even though we lost. But it kind of showed against kind of a high-wire, very athletic team, he was able to show that he could really play at a very high level.
JZ: With you and Russ both All-Stars, how do you guys keep that friendship going these days?
KL: We've always been competitive. It used to be cards in the room together when we roomed together on the road, and we played against each other two to four times a year [in the NBA]. In the summer times, we'll see each other. But I think just in order to keep that friendship fresh, we've always continued to be competitive and get the best out of each other.
JZ: Not only Russell, but also Darren and Luc are in the NBA. What's your connection like today among the guys, and how has it been enjoying success on and off the court together?
KL: I think it's amazing to see these guys grow. I went to Darren's wedding, I went to Russell's wedding. I stayed in touch with Luc. Every time I see him, it's like we are off on the same foot as we were in college. It's amazing to see what a number of these guys have done in business, even those guys that didn't go on to the NBA. But I still keep in touch with a number of guys from that 2008 team that are very special to me, and guys that I hope I will be friends with for the rest of my life.
JZ: It's also special because UCLA is at the center of NBA basketball in the summers, when many pro players reunite for pickup games. What's that like to be a part of?
KL: It's amazing. That's when really I first met all the guys my first week on campus. I remember it was right after high school graduation, and I remember we went up to the men's gym and there were so many pros. I mean, we had our five to seven guys that would kind of go in and out, and then there were probably 20 to 25 pros in the men's gym that we would play against. And UCLA and Los Angeles as a whole has always been a place or an epicenter of NBA basketball in the summer time, and UCLA has pretty much been it.
JZ: What are your thoughts on this year's Bruins?
KL: They're probably the only team I watch in college basketball I guess consistently. But I love what coach [Steve] Alford has done. I actually just saw him and he was talking about how the guys have been playing. And I love that they're consistent in their approach in what they do. They have a couple guys that could be playing on our level next year, and a number of seniors that potentially could go on to play overseas as well. So it's exciting to see a number of those guys use this facility, use the Russell Westbrook Court and become young men.
JZ: You talked with the players pregame in the locker room. What was your advice to them and young players in general?
KL: I always think, 'Do your work early'. I mean, that's something that I've always held close to me, and have great discipline. I know sometimes it's hard to decide what you want now and what you want most, but the sooner you can do that, the better you're going to be. That's the advice I give young guys, and I would've given myself had I had the presence of mind.
JZ: Knowing what you know now, what else would you tell an 18-year-old Kevin Love entering UCLA as a freshman?
KL: Just to take everything in stride. I think in a lot of ways, I was prepared. I had done my work early and I was prepared for what was to come. But also to take a deep breath and soak everything up because it's gone by fast. I know I wouldn't change anything for the world, but at the same time, I would've told him, 'Hey, just take a breath, take it easy and change your haircut [laughs].'
JZ: As for the Cavaliers, you have four new teammates. What are you excited about when you join the new group?
KL: I think just the freshness of it all. They brought a new energy to our locker room, and also I think all those guys do different things. Larry Nance is a double-double threat every single night. He can guard multiple positions. Rodney Hood is a lefty, he can shoot it. Big. I didn't realize he was that big—6'7", 6''8". Jordan Clarkson, come off the bench, give you 20 points, doesn't care if he starts or comes off the bench. And then George Hill, he's a solid, savvy veteran. He can do everything for you—defend multiple positions and can play the 1 or the 2. So between all those guys, we just have to use this time—this last 28, 30 games—to gel and get on the same page.
JZ: How are you feeling with the hand?
KL: I feel good. I'm trying to, here on the All-Star break, make this cast look good. I have about two more weeks in this [cast], and then I get back to some basketball activities, and will probably be a couple weeks from there. So I probably have about a month left.
JZ: What would it mean for you personally to win your second championship in June?
KL: I mean, it would be huge. The first one in 2016 was life-changing and I feel like any time you add that to the top of the list, it can be an unbelievable thing. And we're here at the home of champions at UCLA, so it would be unbelievable to bring another one back home to Cleveland.