Cover athletes are notorious for trying to fake their way through video game questions. A lot of times, a PR representative will brief them on what to say about certain games in order to look cool, but when pressed for details, they'll change the subject quick, throwing in clichéd comments like "I'm just proud to be on the cover. It's a dream come true."
So when NCAA Basketball 09 cover boy Kevin Love threw out the fact that he was a big gamer, how he used to play NBA Jam and NBA Hangtime as a kid, I did what any Jam-addict would do and tested him on his gamer skills with the follow-up question that always seems to stumble the non-gamers. I asked him who he ran with (personally, I was always a Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman, NBA Jam Tournament Edition kind of guy).
"If I wanted a small team, I'd go with Stockton and Malone or Payton and Kemp," says Love. "My favorite was Payton and Kemp in NBA Hangtime. I'd run to the corner, shoot the three, and if Payton missed, Kemp would get the rebound and dunk it back in. You catch fire, you catch team fire, and you're wearing people out."
And these days, Love isn't just playing games, he's a player in games like NBA Live 09 and NCAA Basketball 09 (he's the guy in street clothes shooting around when you pick teams).
"You go into the replay and zoom in, it looks exactly like me. It's incredible," says Love. "I have a nice little stroke, I rebound pretty well.
"I might not do anything too flashy, but that's not really my game anyway."
ESPN: You're rated a 75 overall in NBA Live 09. Happy with that?
Kevin Love: That's not bad. I'm very happy with that, although I should've got something in my contract to be at least an 80 since I'm on the cover (of the NCAA game).
ESPN: What do you think when people look at how you play out on the court and call you a throwback?
Kevin Love: To me, throwback means I'm a smart player. I know how to play the game. I'm very skilled. I do a lot of things that other people don't do. I'm kind of a dirty guy, a little Bill Laimbeer-ish. Those are the guys I used to watch growing up. I used to watch Karl Malone, now I watch Boozer and Elton Brand and try to emulate those guys as much as possible because those guys are about the same size as me. Old school is a compliment more than anything. I like hearing that.
ESPN: When you were at UCLA did you seek the advice of Coach Wooden and past players like Bill Walton?
Kevin Love: Absolutely. I was talking to Coach Wooden after I had signed at UCLA and over the summer and we used to talk all the time. The thing is, talking to Bill Walton, once you throw in your two cents, he throws in the other 98 cents. He will not stop talking, I'll tell you what.
ESPN: What advice did they give you?
Kevin Love: The two biggest things that Mr. Walton said were to enjoy the college life -- you don't want to look back and think that you didn't have a good time. It shouldn't just all be about basketball. The other thing he said, he was talking about all of his nagging injuries throughout the years, so he told me to take care of my body. Make sure it's well rested, that you have a good schedule. Basketball-first, but know when to eat, when to sleep, and knowing your body more than anything.
Coach Wooden, when he speaks, you listen. I've taken a lot of things from him and his little blue book, because to him, it's not just about basketball, it's about life as well.
ESPN: Why not stay another year if you enjoyed the college lifestyle so much?
Kevin Love: I really wish I could come back. I'm good friends with Derrick Rose, Mike Beasley, OJ, Russell Westbrook, and most of the top ten picks, and for us and where we're at in our lives, it just didn't make sense. You can always come back to college, but if you're going to be a lottery pick, there's a lot of money on the line and you don't want to risk that. It wasn't too tough of a decision, but I did think twice about it because my year at UCLA was the best year of my life.
ESPN: What was the draft experience like for you? A lot of doctors pulling and prodding?
Kevin Love: The pre-draft was crazy. There was one day of testing and one day of media, but the rest of it was MRIs for the teams, blood work, piss test…that kind of thing. There were hours and hours of MRIs and them picking and prodding you. They do their homework, but at the end of the day, it's a big investment for them so you just hope that you check out.
ESPN: You've been known to hit a lot of half and full-court shots at practice. Where do all these Globetrotter skills come from?
Kevin Love: It's really just a natural skill. My dad had me doing a lot of the curling bar when I was little and I'd do a lot of pushups, so my hands and wrists and arms got real strong. I used to want to be a pitcher, throwing the ball around, and I was a quarterback, so I'm used to putting the ball on the money. It just comes with being blessed with strong hands.
ESPN: What's your money shot at horse? Full court?
Kevin Love: Probably half-court. Full court is tough to make consistently, although I do have the world record. I was on Sports Science and 89 feet was the world record for longest shot, but I backed it up to about 92.
ESPN: You've been playing the new NCAA Basketball 09 game. As a gamer who appreciates new features, what sets it apart from all the other games out there in your opinion?
Kevin Love: Two things: They have the Division 1 coaches in there for the first time, giving advice and coaching the team. Another thing they have is setting the tempo. If you're playing as a team like UCLA, you'll be able to grind it out, but if you're playing as Memphis or Tennessee, you're going to be up-tempo. You can really feel it in the game. They've tried to do stuff like this in the past, but this year they've really set the bar for basketball video games.
ESPN: Are you going to listen to the Coach Howland in the game?
Kevin Love: Absolutely not. I'm tired of listening to Coach Howland. I listened to Coach Howland enough at UCLA. In the game, I'm taking any shot I want. [laughs] It's actually a pretty cool feature. It makes the game feel a lot more authentic.
ESPN: What are you going to miss most about the college lifestyle?
Kevin Love: As far as basketball goes, I'll miss the camaraderie I had with my teammates and the coaches and traveling together. Making that Final Four run that we did. But college, going to class, meeting different girls, going to parties, being able to meet people and friends you'll have the rest of your life, there's nothing like it.
ESPN: What's the toughest part of the transition between college and the pros?
Kevin Love: I need to maintain my physicality and my condition. I think in college I could've been in better condition, eaten better, and got better rest. But when you're in class at eight in the morning and you get out of practice at five, six, seven o'clock, it's pretty hard. We're going to play more than double the games that I played last year, the shot clock drops to 24 seconds, so the game is a lot more up-tempo, and also, just living out of a suitcase for half the year. Those are all big adjustments.
ESPN: The basketball video games today have so much more atmosphere and crowd noise than the old games. What's the funniest thing a fan ever yelled at you in real life that they need to put in the game?
Kevin Love: The not-funniest thing is everything at the University of Oregon. The funny stuff? There were some pretty explicit signs in the crowd, but they were pretty funny to me.
ESPN: How bad did it really get at Oregon?
Kevin Love: A lot of threats. People were calling up and giving threats against my life. There is a point where it's funny and then there's a point where it's not so funny. That was definitely crossing the line. It's just a game, after all, but people, how low do you have to stoop? On a lighter subject, the cover of EA Sports' NCAA Basketball 09… [laughs]
ESPN: Is your goal to eventually be on the cover of NBA Live? Carmelo Anthony is the only current player to be on the cover of the college and pro game.
Kevin Love: Definitely. Getting on the cover of a video game is amazing. If you're on the cover of cereal, you can eat that. Wheaties get stale, but being on the cover of a video game, this lasts forever.