Feature: Love, Westbrook Headed for NBA

April 18, 2008

By Nik Lampros
Daily Bruin

April 18, 2008

Los Angeles, CA (UWIRE) -- Kevin Love wore a suit and tie, smiled for the cameras and glad-handed the assembled media. Russell Westbrook wore a polo shirt, and said his piece shortly and succinctly.

Both were likely making their final statements as UCLA basketball players. If so, both ended their careers on appropriate notes.

At separate press conferences on Thursday, Love and Westbrook announced their intentions of entering the 2008 NBA Draft. Neither has yet hired an agent, meaning they will retain their eligibility and could yet decide to return to college.

Love, a gregarious freshman center who averaged 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds a game en route to being named a first-team All-American, was joined at the podium by his father, Stan, and coach Ben Howland.

'I had a speech written out but I think you guys would mostly get a jaded sense of what I went through this year if I didn't speak from my heart, so that's what I'm going to attempt to do,' Love said. 'We're all here for the same reason, and it's because I'm entering my name into the NBA Draft.'

While Love's intention to depart had generally been expected even before this past season began, Westbrook, a soft-spoken sophomore guard who averaged 12.7 points and four rebounds a game, was not as well known before the season began. Yet, he played his way into the national spotlight with a combination of athleticism, defense and ferocious dunking.

Before his press conference, Westbrook sat at the podium and joked around with senior Lorenzo Mata-Real, who eventually stood up to allow Howland to take his place.

'After discussing with my family and weighing my options I've decided I will enter the 2008 NBA Draft and try and pursue my future there,' Westbrook said. 'I will not be hiring an agent, to try and maintain my eligibility by staying in class this quarter.'

Since the season ended, Howland has spoken with NBA officials and general managers to try and gauge where Love and Westbrook ranked in this year's draft class. Love said that research projected him in the No. 3 to 14 range, while Westbrook said he projected somewhere between pick No. 15 and 25.

'We are 100 percent behind Kevin in his decision, and we fully expect that he'll be a very high draft pick,' Howland said.

Love said that his decision not to hire an agent was mostly a precaution against injury or an unexpected plunging of his draft stock. While he spoke at length of his desire to give back to the UCLA community and someday return to finish his degree, those plans sounded more hypothetical than immediate.

'I just want to retain my eligibility in case something happens,' Love said.

Stan Love was supportive of his son's decision.

'It's been his dream since 5 years old to be in the NBA,' he said. 'And if you can get a shot at it and attain it, my advice was, 'Try and live the dream.''

Westbrook made it sound more plausible that he could play another year at UCLA. Players begin working out for NBA teams on June 3, and they have until June 16 to withdraw their names from the draft. Depending on his performance in those workouts, Westbrook said he might return.

'It's all based on close toward the draft, where I'm getting projected,' he said. 'If I'm top-20, then it's a possibility I might not be coming back. But if I'm below there, then I'm going to start thinking about coming back to school.'

Junior forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was originally slated to make an announcement regarding his draft status at the same time as Westbrook, but Mbah a Moute did not appear, meaning there is no official word yet on his decision. Likewise, junior guard Darren Collison has not yet officially announced his plans for next year.

College players have until April 27 to make themselves eligible for the NBA Draft, which will take place on June 26.

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