The moment Kevin Love knew a young Russ would be special originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
With a player as talented as Russell Westbrook, it’s hard to comprehend a time when his status kind of flew under the radar.
But after a quiet freshman season at UCLA, nobody really expected him to blossom into a top-five pick in the draft, and certainly not someone who’d get picked in front of freshman sensation, Kevin Love. That’s what happened, though, and since his days as a Bruin, he’s won MVP, made nine All-Star games and now owns the all-time record for career triple-doubles.
If you ask Love, it was apparent early in his career at UCLA that Westbrook, a sophomore guard with a lot of fire in his game, would be a special player. All it took was a few pickup games on campus against some stiff competition.
“We had three courts, 10 on each court, so 30 players. Typically we had a team of five UCLA guys, maybe a mix of us and USC guys,” Love said on Wizards Pregame Live. “But outside of that, it was all pros, it was all NBA players. There were so many pros that he went against, so many bigs that he challenged at the rim.
“I can remember [Westbrook] catching one off the defensive glass, pulling it down, bringing it up the court, surveying what he had and kind of crossing over going to the left, finishing up above the rim and I said, ‘Wow, this guy is gonna be really special.'”
Westbrook only played nine minutes per game as a freshman, averaging just over three points. But when has production ever stopped him from wanting to compete against the best? Seeing his play behind the scenes only gave Love more confidence in believing he’d break out at some point.
“So when they ask me, ‘Who’s going to be a break out star this year?’ For me it was an easy answer,” Love said. “People said, ‘Ah, that’s kind of close to home and you’re trying to show out for one of your friends,’ but I said ‘I really truly believe that he’s gonna be special,’ and this is one of the few that I actually got right.”
Westbrook ended up having a terrific sophomore year at UCLA and helped lead them to the Final Four in 2008. Though they lost to Memphis, it was clear there were two future stars on that team.
Love was right all along, and maybe even more right than he even realized at the time.