Only in Westwood would losing two of the top freshman anywhere in the land register on the scale of "wicked", but I'm sitting here wrapping up the week's work bracing myself for the inevitability of a certain press conference that is sure to leave me shaking my head in just under an hour.
No quotes, citations or references in this post. Just one, long time member of the Bruin family wondering, "If Kevin Love, bolts after one partially successful (by Bruin standards) season, then there is simply no hope or future for building college basketball programs anywhere in the nation."
Now granted, like the short debate I just got into with a family member about a bunch of underachieving scholarship football players ditching class, I speak from a position of relative ignorance. I didn't rush, I didn't walk-on, I didn't run for student government. In fact, as social a creature as I was (and am), I didn't hang out much on campus. I didn't have time. For me, it was pretty much all business: I transferred in, took the 560 to and from the Valley, worked my ass off and did what the f*** I had to do (both then and now) to get the job done and uphold what's become family rite: Being a Bruin.
My campus experience was truncated and evidently much less cathartic than most. I grew up never more than 20-miles removed and a couple weeks between visits to UCLA. Thanks to my dad and bro, I always considered being on campus as being home. Years later, I take my little ones there so they can develop that same excited connection to Campus as was ingrained in me.
I mention all this because as I sit here waiting to hear our boy Kevin Love say he wants what's behind curtain #2, I can't help but wonder WHY. WHY??? Then of course, right afterward, I feel more than a little silly -- like a kid talking about life in America before he was even born:
I ain't 19 and I ain't 6'8" staring $6.5M in the face. I know all that.
But what I don't know is, past the great regular season, the conference championship and a third run to the Final Four, what the hell did we just get out of hosting this (and the other) freshman's' time at the school? And, if a kid who (1) doesn't "need" the money, (2) comes from a smart, stable background (3) didn't do what most every every athlete at UCLA strives for (win a NC) and (4) whose stock WILL ONLY RISE next season with the incoming class doesn't stay.. then why would ANY athlete who comes to this or any other university EVER stay past his/her freshman year once he/she gets the benefit of a few dozen press write ups and awards?
The answer is NONE unless somebody does something to up the ante for incoming athletes and their parents (like say a 2-year commitment or a new NBA age limit), because as college basketball fans, it has become painfully evident that we truly have nothing sustainable to look forward to year in and year out with regard to our schools, their teams and the insatiable and destructive draw that professional organizations like the NBA now represent. Hell, you'd think with all the recent flops of underdeveloped talent guys like Stern have seen and written off (in the $100's of M), they'd WANT recruits with a bit more seasoning than 2-3 years of towering over kids who weren't going any further themselves?!?
In short, something has to change before the heart of the sport is totally ripped out of it. And while I've never been one to even think of lobbying the immovable blue bloods of the NCAA for anything beyond mandating their athletes get a decent shot at an education, I believe in my heart that this whole thing needs to change.
At some point, an element of stability must be introduced into the system so that the department, the program, the roster and most importantly the instructor (coach) maintains the ability to impart the knowledge, training and experience he/she's been chartered to impart to his/her students... and we just won't get there like this.
I for one am totally against Love (and RW and the others) leaving this early, especially when his (their) risks/returns next season and beyond are all to the upside. But like I said, I didn't get that full ride; My mom wrote checks. I didn't get to ride on the team plane; I took the bus. So obviously, my views are tainted (if not a tad morbid) and I may not have the slightest clue what these kids and their families are dealing with.
Either way, Nestor, by the time today's done, I will undoubtedly owe you that drink we talked about. Alas, I prayed and figured against all hope and logic that it wouldn't come to this.
But it has.
Anyway, we'll always love you guys (Kevin, RW, et. al.).