Kevin Love, UCLA's top basketball recruit, is coming to town Friday night with his Lake Oswego High School team, for a game against Compton Centennial at Pauley Pavilion. Bruin Nation has gone ga-ga over Love, while sneaker guru Sonny Vaccaro is so juiced about the big man that he could barely speak during his appearance on the "Loose Cannons." (Love returns for a Feb. game against Mater Dei.)
Next fall, with Love at UCLA and O.J. Mayo headed to USC, L.A.'s college hoops scene will get major national attention. I'll be curious to watch how the L.A. Times covers their careers. In yesterday's paper, under the very late '80s-sounding headline "UCLA-bound Love is already rocking the house," Eric Sondheimer gushed that, "Kevin Love is like a rock star headlining a cross-country tour, except it's what he can do with the basketball and not a guitar that has fans shrieking in envy."
And this: "There's so much to admire about Love, who doesn't have a posse following him around, doesn't have an entourage of advisors other than his parents, doesn't have tattoos and doesn't worry about where he'll end up in the legacy of UCLA centers."
That's in sharp contrast to what former sports editor-turned-columnist Bill Dwyre wrote this summer. When Love made headlines after he orally committed to UCLA in July, Dwyre glowered that, "Many of the people who have been bringing you the news of a young basketball player named Kevin Love ought to be ashamed of themselves.
That includes websites, radio, TV and newspapers. A pox on their houses.
Love just finished his junior year of high school in Oregon. By all accounts, he is a wonderful player. He is several months away from the start of his senior season, but he had a news conference Tuesday to announce that he would play at UCLA.
That won't begin until the winter of 2007. His announcement is known as a 'non-binding oral commitment.'
In other words, until he signs a sheet of paper in November, he is bound to nothing and by nothing. Yet, by the reaction in many news outlets, it was time for UCLA to put another deck on Pauley Pavilion.
One newspaper even made it a top headline on the front of sports. And it was by no means the only practitioner of misguided excess. Websites waggled, broadcasts cackled and journalistic judgment gave way to lost perspective.
Yes, this was news. Yes, UCLA fans, and college basketball fans in general, had a right to know. And no, it was not worth more than the three paragraphs this paper gave it."
And this: "The media's agenda should be different. It should be to help their audiences determine relevance and perspective.
Instead, all too often, we get mindless, unfiltered typing on the Internet, air-filling babble on broadcasts and oversized headlines that incorrectly puff up importance.
It is not the fault of fans who get overly excited about news on their teams. It is the fault of us, the media."
Covering young, talented athletes is difficult business. Dwyre is correct in noting that the media (myself included) devotes too much attention to that demographic –- some of whom are (or turn into) spoiled, entitled, one-dimensional brats and some of whom never fulfill their –- wait for it -- "potential." On the other hand, given our voracious sports media –- is it ESPN11 or ESPN12?? –- and given how the spotlight now reaches deep into the youth ranks, there are legitimate stories about top-flight athletes at the high school level, from tennis to volleyball to figure skating to football.
So, what's appropriate? It's about balance – and that can be found somewhere between "rock star" and "three paragraphs."