LAS VEGAS -- Ben Howland was so ecstatic that, according to Kevin Love, the UCLA coach was near tears.
Howland has had plenty of big-time coaching experiences, notably reaching the national title game last April before losing to Florida. Still, Howland has never signed a player rated as high as Love.
Tuesday, Howland's four-year recruitment of the best big man in the class of 2007 paid off when the 6-9 Love announced he would go to UCLA, choosing the Bruins over North Carolina.
"He recruited me the longest, since eighth grade when he first got the job, and he ended up with me," said Love, who will return to his native Oregon (he's from Lake Oswego) during Pac-10 play in 2007-08. "When I told him he almost started crying he was so happy."
Love said he tried to throw off UCLA and North Carolina fans by saying Monday that he was going to shock people. He said as late as a few weeks ago it was real close. But over the last 10 days he came to the realization that he fit best at UCLA where he has a chance to be the next legendary big man at the school.
"If I could be half as good as Mr. Alcindor, now Mr. Abdul-Jabbar or Mr. Walton then that would be a big deal," Love said. "They have a big-time tradition there."
Love, arguably one of the top two players in the class of 2007 with guard O.J. Mayo of North College Hill (Ohio) High, could go against his summer-league rival at least twice in 2007-08 if Mayo follows through with his private proclamation to the USC staff that he would sign with the Trojans.
"It would be crazy if we were both there [in L.A.]," Love said. "We have a good friendship and it would be a lot of fun. It'd be huge for the USC-UCLA rivalry."
Love's signing gives the Bruins a legit shot to be a regular Final Four participant. Even though the Bruins lost point guard Jordan Farmar to the NBA draft after his sophomore season, the Bruins get back injured wing Josh Shipp and are considered a Final Four contender in 2007. Adding Love means they could be in 2008, too.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.