Rookie Tales ... with Kevin Love

With the Cavs recent visit to the Twin Cities, Love Looks Back at His Freshman Campaign
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Rookie Tales ... with Kevin Love

With the Cavs recent visit to the Twin Cities, Love Looks Back at His Freshman Campaign

When you look back at photos of Kevin Love as a rookie with Minnesota, it almost looks like a different person altogether.

Taken with the 5th overall pick of the 2008 Draft – one selection after his college teammate Russell Westbrook – Love was immediately traded by Memphis to Minnesota in exchange for O.J. Mayo.

Mayo had a decent eight-year career with Memphis, Milwaukee and Dallas. Love, on the other hand, is in line for his fifth career All-Star appearance in his fourth year with the Wine & Gold.

Love hit the ground running in his first year in the Twin Cities, nearly averaging a double-double – 11.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg – after only one season with the Bruins. He would go on to post monster numbers in his six years with the T-Wolves, but never reached the postseason until he was dealt to Cleveland in the summer of 2014.

In today’s installment of "Rookie Tales", the big man with the matinee idol looks recalls his favorite veterans, his former dietary habits and a strict initiation period during that first season with Minnesota …

A young Kevin Love strikes a pose for his rookie photo shoot.
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

During that year’s Draft process, did you get close with any of the guys?

Kevin Love: I mean, Derrick (Rose), a little bit. But Russell (Westbrook), for sure. Maybe a few others, really, over time.

But, you know, Russell and I were college roommates on the road and were the fourth and fifth picks in the Draft, so we were very close – and we've both gone on to have really good careers.

We're 10 years in now, and it’s pretty fun to look back and kind of see where it all came from.

What was Westbrook like back then?

Love: Stubborn. The same. (Laughs)

No, seriously, you could tell ... I remember the first time -- I had known Russell before, but the first time I saw him in the summer and we were playing, you know, our five UCLA guys against five other pros and there were 20 or 25 other pros or former pros in the men's gym at UCLA.

And I remember looking at him and thinking: ‘Wow! This guy is going to be a breakout star in college basketball.’

And Darren Collison went down with a sprained, I think, MCL our first month of the season. So we were without him for like four to six weeks. And Russell took over at point guard, and he became the Russell Westbrook we all know.

Did you, at some point during the Draft process, think you were going to Memphis?

Love: Yeah, initially. I knew that Minnesota had a lot of interest in me and Kevin McHale liked my draft workout there. But initially I thought: ‘I'm going to Memphis.’ I was ready to play, I actually thought it was a great fit.

But I got a call at dinner that night. I was actually, I remember forwarding that call onto my voicemail; it was from my agent and I thought he just wanted to see where I was. Little did I know that I was getting phone calls because I'd just been traded.

So, my brother handed me the phone and said: 'Hey, there's some news about a trade.' And I really didn't think anything of it. I got up and (my agent) said you've been traded to Minnesota.

So ... there I was.

I flew out to Minneapolis the next morning, did the press conference and I got to hold that first jersey of mine.

The Wolves took Nikola Pekovic in that same Draft …

Love: Yeah, but he didn’t come over until I think my third year.

OK … so off the subject a bit, why did they call him “The Godfather” in Minnesota?

Love: I don't know. I guess it's because he's gets things taken care of; he makes you an offer you can't refuse. He's one of those guys where, you know, you feel like if you cross him you could end up with a horse's head in your bed.

Randy Wittman got fired in that first year with Kevin McHale taking over. What affect did that have on your rookie season?

Love: Yeah, within the first six weeks of the season -- I think early December. It was crazy. And then McHale, he was gone after my rookie year.

So after one year, I'd already been through two coaches – including the guy that had traded for me on Draft night.

What about the physical transformation you made – from UCLA to the pros and from that rookie year to the player you are now?

Love: Even from having to play just two games a week to then sometimes playing four games in five nights, it was a tough transition.

But just as far as the overall physical transformation, I knew that if I was going to sustain this thing for 15 years -- (knock on wood) -- that I needed to make a change in my body, and that came with just, I guess, just learning and knowing what to eat.

You know how people are always adding stuff to their game. Well, as far as changing my diet, I was just adding something to my lifestyle that could really affect how I play the game.

Over time, I think that really helped me continue to stay strong -- and here I am today.

What was your diet like then?

Love: Back then, I just didn't know how to eat.

I was coming from, you know, where my mom would make me food until I was full. I thought that's how to do it, and that I could get away with it. And you can at 15, 16, 17 years old.

But once I got into the NBA, I thought: I can't eat like this anymore because guys are physically superior. And I have to do anything to get an edge.

Was it tough adjusting with a veteran-laden club that first year?

Love: I had a ton of veterans; I was the only rookie. So, it was a year for me to grow up, having been 19 at UCLA and then, after one year, moving on to the NBA. I had to learn pretty fast what that life was like.

And that's when they still had hazing; I think that was, like, the last year where hazing was still a thing.

"You had to work your way up the food chain because you started from nothing and had to work your way up."

Kevin Love on paying his rookie dues

Which veterans helped you along as rookie?

Love: Well, that team had guys like Mark Madsen, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal.

But Big Al Jefferson, he was the one who really helped me bring me along. He was 'my vet' -- the guy that I would work with every day and that was before he had his ACL -- so he was a monster back then. There's nothing you could do to stop him on that block -- he has the jump-hook, that pump-fake and that turn with the right hand.

So, that was my vet, and he helped bring me along – and to this day I pay him, obviously, a lot of respect for having taught me so much early on.

And which veterans were toughest on you?

Love: All of them. I guess they saw a scab and wanted to keep it bleeding.

It probably didn’t help that you came in as “Kevin Love from UCLA”?

Love: Oh yeah, they beat me back down!

They made me serve the food on the plane. All of it. The bags, the coffee, the donuts. And there were no other rookies, so it was all me.

So, I'd have to be the first one in the showers, the first one dressed and ready to go on the bus. Just a lot of stuff like that. First one at the gym.

But, you know, you had to work your way up the food chain because you started from nothing and had to work your way up.

But the opportunity was there and I think they respected the fact that I played really hard.