Players write their love letter to basketball

Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.V.) senior forward Elijah Macon will always be grateful for his mom setting him up with his first true love: Basketball.

A die-hard Shaquille O' Neal fan, Renai Payne would tune into the Lake Show whenever the Lakers played on national television and often, little Elijah would park himself on the couch with her to ingest all the action. He quickly grew a fondness for the sport, taking a liking to Kobe Bryant's hunger for success and propensity for clutch plays.

"He was more of my generation than Michael Jordan was," says Macon of Bryant. "I just watched him hit buzzer-beaters and win all those championships. That was my generation of basketball, and he was my idol. That was in middle school, when I really started to love the game of basketball."

Now rated the No. 42 player in the ESPNU 100, Macon's love has intensified significantly over the years — to the point that he now can't live without the sphere.

"I love it. It's gotten me noticed as one of the top players in the country," Macon says.

So what does an elite hoop prospect do on Valentine's Day for the game he loves? Bouquet of flowers? Box of chocolate?

Nah. More basketball, duh.

"If I was to get a Valentine's Day gift for basketball, I'd take it out to eat then to see Kobe play," laughs Macon.

Macon isn't the only hoop recruit looking to profess his love today. We caught up with several of the nation's top players to see why they love this game.

Tony Parker, Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.)

Uncommitted, No. 21 in ESPNU 100

"When I first saw basketball is the moment I fell in love. It was just watching the competitive nature of it. I said to myself, ‘I got to do that one day. I got to.’ I first noticed basketball in elementary school but middle school is when I really began to love it. That’s when I really started taking the game serious. Since then, I think basketball shoes have increased my love of basketball. I love Jordans. I say that was the most influential thing about Mike."

Winston Shepard, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.)

Uncommitted, No. 53 in the ESPNU 100

"It’s a good life teacher and it can help you not only on the court but off the court. It can take you a lot of places. I first fell in love when I was in eighth grade. That's when I really started getting good. I used to play football, but I started getting too tall, so I had to switch to the court. Soon as I started playing, I fell in love with it."

Terry Rozier, Shaker Heights (Ohio)

Louisville recruit, No. 75 in the ESPNU 100

"When I stopped playing football in middle school is when I knew I loved the sport. I wanted to be the first one in my family to go to college and I wanted to stop the struggles of my family. Once I became serious about basketball, I realized I could make some money and stop our struggles. My love has definitely increased since then. Getting an opportunity to play for Rick Pitino, I just think every day that basketball is my life."

Xavier Johnson, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Colorado recruit, No. 63 in the ESPNU 100

“My first true love was soccer. I played it until fifth grade. My dad taught me about basketball because I started getting tall. I love it because it helps me get out all my emotions and relaxes me. My gift to basketball? I play Friday so hopefully I put up like 40 points, and break the glass and make it rain on me. Haha.”

David Auguste is an associate editor for ESPNHS and ESPNHS.com. Follow him on Twitter @ESPNHSAuguste or email him at David.Auguste@espn.com.