Kevin Love: Every single rebound

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2011 - 9:34 AM

That's what the Wolves' Kevin Love wants and mostly gets. The gritty forward credits his dad's long-ago driveway sessions for his NBA dominance.

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Big kid Kevin Love wanted to play football. His parents thought otherwise and steered him toward the basketball court — and they got it right.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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Timberwolves forward Kevin Love's 31-point, 31-rebound game and nightly double-doubles that his coach terms "ridiculous" already are becoming the stuff of legend. So much so that you might not know where to separate fact from fiction about a ball-grabbing fiend who has shortish arms and can't jump. Did a pack of wild dogs really steal him away when he was 2 and teach him everything he knows about rebounding?

Love talked recently with Star Tribune beat writer Jerry Zgoda about his craft. In his own words, he explains how, at such a young age, he has become the NBA's most proficient rebounder whose 30-30 feat last was achieved 29 years ago by Moses Malone.

• • •

That one, the one about the wild dogs, isn't true.

The one about my dad taking me out to the court when I was 8 or 9 and telling me that painted area around the basket could become my football field is.

I was always the biggest kid when I was little. I was always a kid that everybody liked and got along with, but I'd always get picked on and teased because I was the big kid.

I wanted to play football. My parents didn't want me to because they thought I'd get hurt, and I remember I couldn't play quarterback anyway because there was a weight limit and I was always 15, 20, 30 pounds over it. So I said, "Dad, I want to be a linebacker then. I want to be able to go and just crush the quarterback. Let me go in there and take some of my anger out."

So he took me out to a court one day and said, "This is your football. You don't need any pads down here; there's no weight limit. So you can really take your anger out down there. This is going to be your football, and basketball is going to be what takes you places."

Hey, he was right.

• • •

My dad, Stan, grew up in Inglewood, Calif., where the Lakers played for years at the Fabulous Forum before they moved to Staples Center. He played college basketball at Oregon and then played four professional seasons with Baltimore and the Lakers in the NBA and with San Antonio in the ABA long, long before I was born.

It's funny, I look back now at some of the tapes of my dad playing, and he was more of a jump shooter and an extremely athletic guy. He's 6-8 now that he's shrunk an inch from old age, but basically all I know about rebounding came from him.

It's kind of out of context that he would teach me that, because he wasn't the best rebounder in the world when he played. But he played with Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes and a guy named Elmore Smith, who blocked 17 shots in a game once with the Lakers, and he played against Wilt Chamberlain.

I guess there was a reason he named me Kevin Wesley Love.

He taught me about what he learned from playing with and against those guys -- positioning and footwork -- but more than anything, he taught me there's a mindset to rebounding: It's about assuming every shot is going to miss and how Bill Russell always used to say 80 percent of rebounds are below the rim and knowing I could have a lot of success doing it.

I didn't have to be the most athletic guy. I didn't have to be the tallest guy or have the longest arms. I just had to have brute strength and the tenacity to go after every single one.

I'm 6-9 without shoes on the best day of my life.

At the predraft camp in 2008, they measured my wingspan at 6-11¾, and I grew out my fingernails for that, too.

And I don't have the biggest hands in the world. I certainly don't have Mike Beasley hands, which are freakishly big. Mine are pretty normal.

• • •

The will to rebound -- to get every single one there is -- isn't something you can measure.

It's something I feel either you have [it] or you don't.

I think my dad focused on rebounding with me so I'd be more than just a scorer or passer. So if other things weren't going right, I could always rebound. That was something that could still make me special. Even if I ever ended up on a team where I wasn't getting the ball too much, I'd always know I could get four to six points just off offensive rebounds.

He taught me this mostly out on the concrete in our driveway in Lake Oswego, Ore.

We had a lot of battles growing up. He taught me to keep my elbows out, that if anybody wants to come in there and play with the big boys, they're going to get hit every once in a while.

He stopped playing me when I first hit him in the chest real good when I was in the eighth grade. I was 6-5, 6-6 then, and that was the first time I ever beat him, and that day he said, "I'm done, you beat me."

When I got to high school, I started realizing I could be really special at this. I had a couple 30-rebound games, never a 30-30, though. And then at UCLA, I had a couple big-time rebounding games when I went back for games in Oregon, even though you're only playing 28, 29, 30 minutes a game in college.

That's when I knew I could rebound at an elite level, and I always felt, more than anything, rebounding was one skill that could translate at any level: high school, college or the NBA.

From him, I learned to position myself on the other side if a shot is going up from the corner because most missed shots bounce over to the far side of the rim.

From him, I learned if it's a long shot, the rebound is long most of the time. If it's 15 feet or 10 feet, it'll bounce in that similar vicinity.

From him, I learned about rebounding "zones." There's the zone you're in and then there's the one to your right and the one to your left. Some guys can rebound in one area alone. But if you can rebound in two or three different zones, you can be a very special rebounder.

• • •

A lot of it is just seeing the flight of the ball, where it's going to hit off the rim depending upon how flat or how much arc there is on the shot, knowing where it's going to go and automatically clearing out space as you see it hit.

It doesn't matter if it's Dwight Howard in there or Earl Boykins: If you see that ball go up, you're throwing elbows up, you're throwing your weight, your body. All that work you put in the weight room, you're just throwing it around.

In the weight room, I'm not the strongest guy in the world. I'm 22, and I still have a long ways to go. But I've always been big for my age and I've always had some natural brute strength in my lower body ever since me and a grade-school buddy took on all comers -- as many as 20 kids -- on the playground in pickup games, and we never lost.

I'm not slender. I'm a wide body and I'm using my legs, my hips, my big butt to throw people around, just like I wanted to do when I was a kid.

When I was in high school, our football coaches kept asking me to play and I kept telling them my parents wouldn't let me. I remember one time, just joking around, I put on the pads. My mom heard about it and she told me, "If we ever find you out there on the field in a game, we'll drive that car through the gate, right onto the field and whoop your ass."

I guess my dad always understood I was going to be big and he didn't want kids purposely trying to take out my legs or hitting me after the play because he knew basketball was going to be it for me.

Like I said, he was right.

The basketball court really is my football field, and I feel like that painted area is mine.

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