MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. - Kevin Love won't be giving up his day job any time soon. Idled by the NBA lockout, the Minnesota Timberwolves all-star hit the sand to compete in his first pro beach volleyball tournament Thursday. He and his partner lost in straight sets, but Love called the action "addicting" and wants to keep honing his game.
As the lowest-seeded players in the Manhattan Beach Open, Love and pro partner Hans Stolfus drew the top-seeded team of Sean Scott and John Hyden, who won last week's tournament in Hermosa Beach and are undefeated this summer. Scott and Hyden took it easy on Love and Stolfus, handing them a 21-16, 21-15 defeat under blue skies next to the Manhattan Beach pier.
"Obviously getting beat is never fun, but being competitive, playing against the best team in the country, a team that hasn't lost all summer, was a lot of fun," Love said.
Wearing a black T-shirt and shorts and black sunglasses, Love's legs were caked in sand up to his knees and sweat dripped from his chin as he dug for low balls and spiked some winners in front of a small crowd.
"It's like having a good basketball sense, you got to have a good court sense out there and for me, I haven't spent enough time out there on the volleyball court to really know," said Love, whose 53 consecutive double-double games last season set a record.
At six-foot-ten, Love was easily the tallest player on the sand, making him perfect to play the blocking position at the net. The 6-5 Stolfus handled defensive duties in his first tournament since being off two years because of injury.
"We both said, 'Let's have as much fun as possible,'" Stolfus said. "If we went in too serious we'd put too much pressure on."
Stolfus chattered encouragement to Love throughout the match. Love came up with several solid blocks and hit some clean winners, earning kudos from Hyden.
"Obviously, he needs a lot of work," he said. "He came along pretty well for never playing before."
Scott was impressed by Love's height and athleticism, but he said Love would "have to put in a lot of time and effort getting the finer things, like ball control."
Love was embraced by the other players, despite his likely status as the only millionaire in the group.
"It brings beach volleyball to the limelight," Hyden said. "Hopefully it helps the sport. It's never bad having guys like that."
Born in nearby Santa Monica, Love grew up in Lake Oswego, Ore., spending most of his time in the gym. Visiting the ocean was never on his agenda, despite being the nephew of Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love, so discovering a new game has livened up his summer.
"It's addicting," said Love, who practiced just 10 times before his debut in one of the oldest beach volleyball tournaments in the world. "It's an excuse to get on the beach and near the ocean.
"I definitely want to keep playing, see how good I can get. These guys, they have their 10,000 hours in, so I'm kind of struggling in that regard."
Love trained with Jesse Rambis, the 25-year-old son of Kurt Rambis, who was fired last month as Timberwolves coach. The younger Rambis played volleyball at UCLA and now plays on the pro tour.
"He picked up a lot of the basic skills really quick and well," Rambis said. "His offensive game is going to be good because he can contact the ball at a good height. He's smart, he wants to learn and he's athletic."
The effects of the NBA lockout were felt at the beach. Rambis said his mother, Linda, wanted to come and watch Love play, but as an employee of the Lakers, she was prohibited from having contact with any players.
"I really do hope that we have a season. I do think that we will miss games," Love said. "We need to get something figured out. Hopefully, the players will come out on top, but we'll be able to come to a deal that makes sense."
Love has spent the summer travelling, working out, preparing for his beach volleyball debut and attending classes at UCLA, where he starred for one season before jumping to the NBA.
By Sept. 7 he'll have completed his first full year of college classes.
"On my 23rd birthday, I'll be a sophomore," he said, laughing.
Love has joined fellow NBA star Baron Davis and former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon as players who've returned to campus this summer in pursuit of degrees they abandoned to play professionally.
"It's fun, it gets me excited," Love said about being back in classes like American Popular Culture. "It makes you feel like you're a normal person again. You understand business and the world so much more and because of that you take it so much more seriously."
Of course, Love is easily recognized by his fellow students, who besiege him with autograph and photo requests. Most of the time, one of the NBA's most prolific tweeters accommodates them. Sometimes, though, he tells them he's got to go because he'll be late for class.
"That's my favourite excuse I've used and I'm like, 'That felt good,'" he said.