NBA Draft: Love reshapes body

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2008

Associated Press
Many of the mock NBA drafts have UCLA’s Kevin Love going to Charlotte with the ninth pick.
If it happens, Bobcats fans will find out Love is half the man he used to be.
And he’s proud of it.
Three months after he fought back tears in the locker room after UCLA’s season-ending loss to Memphis, Love hardly resembles the doughy big man TV cameras routinely caught hunched over tugging at his shorts late in games.
His cheeks are slimmer, his torso’s more streamlined and the muscles in his arms are more defined, changes he attributes to an improved diet and an intense training regimen that helped him shed 20 pounds in preparation for tonight’s extravaganza.
“Losing that weight was the biggest challenge he was facing,” said Geo Aispuro, a trainer with Las Vegas-based Impact Basketball who worked with Love the past few months. “His skill set and his work ethic were always his best qualities, but now he’ll be able to guard forwards in the NBA and play the whole season injury free.”
Love’s newly svelte physique has helped solidify his place near the top of the first round alongside ex-USC guard O. J. Mayo and former UCLA teammate Russell Westbrook. Mayo is projected as a near-certain top-five pick, while Westbrook’s stock has soared so high he could go as early as No. 4 to Seattle.
Questions about Love’s lack of lateral quickness and athleticism caused teams to initially doubt whether he moved well enough to guard NBA forwards, but his stock has steadily climbed as his weight has dropped. Even if Minnesota and Memphis pass on him with the third and fifth picks, he’s unlikely to fall past Charlotte at No. 9.
“The question mark with Kevin has always been his athleticism and his explosiveness, but I think he’s a far better athlete than he gets credit for,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “You can’t be as productive as he’s been without being a good athlete. I think he’ll do very well in the NBA.”
Fitness was never Love’s chief priority at Lake Oswego High in Oregon because the skilled 6-foot-10 big man could overwhelm opponents with his size and strength. Though he hired a trainer to conduct 6:30 a.m. workouts for him prior to his senior season, he still entered college at 265 pounds, slightly bulkier than UCLA coach Ben Howland would have liked.
Love led UCLA in scoring and rebounding as a freshman, but there were times early in the season that the first-team All-American was unable to play for more than a few minutes at a time without showing signs of fatigue. He blamed poor eating habits, admitting fast food and sweets became his postgame vices because few healthier options were available late at night.
“The whole thing is diet,” Love said during the season. “There will be times after games where I’m hungry, but the options late at night aren’t that great. That’s just something I have to keep working on.”
The hard work began in April as soon as Love withdrew from classes and hired Joe Abunassar, founder and owner of Impact Basketball, to design workouts tailored to his needs. Armed with feedback from scouts who said Love needed to shed weight and get quicker, Abunassar convinced the UCLA freshman to alter his diet and workout routine.
For eight weeks, Love arrived at Home Depot Center in Carson by 8:15 a.m. six days a week and endured seven hours of speed drills, plyometrics and spot shooting. He also began a pre-packaged diet, featuring everything from broccoli and asparagus to grilled salmon and steak.
“Coach Howland pointing out his weight, that’s what inspired him,” Lake Oswego High coach Mark Shoff said. “I just hung a picture of the team on my wall from Kevin’s senior year, and he looks like a chipmunk, whereas now his face is quite a bit narrower.”
Love’s body fat now has sunk to approximately 11 percent, a statistic he hopes to lower even further by the start of training camp. The hours of exhaustion and nausea will all seem worthwhile Thursday night when he shakes Commissioner David Stern’s hand at the draft podium in New York.
“He wowed everyone at (the Orlando pre-draft camp) just walking into the gym,” Aispuro said. “When a prospect improves his jump shot, you don’t see it until he gets on the court. But when you see Kevin Love come in thin as a pole, people saw it right away.”