Judd Spicer is an award-winning, veteran freelance writer and was a colleague of mine at the City Pages, where he covered the Twins and Wolves. Recently though, he decided to leave the Midwest and relocate his writing desk to Southern California, the better to monitor the cutthroat world of pro beach volleyball (I don’t know if that last part is true). He’s a fine fellow and a sharp dresser and can be followed at Twitter here.
Kevin Love may be locked out, but the All-Star forward and reigning NBA rebound champ isn’t locked down. He’s just using the time during the league’s labor dispute to attack a different net.
The Timberwolves’ forward made his pro volleyball debut on Thursday morning at the world’s most historic and most competitive beach volleyball tournament, the Manhattan Beach Open, part of the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Series. Total prize money for the event is $200,000, making it the richest domestic tournament of the season. Love’s anticipated salary for 2011-12? Just a hair over $4.6 million.
Playing alongside volleyball vet Hans Stolfus in a qualifying round match versus the tournament’s top-seeded team of Sean Scott and John Hyden, Love displayed a mesh of athleticism, raw skill and inexperience in a quick straight set loss (16-21, 15-21) to the event favorites. The defeat knocked the tandem from the tournament’s weekend play.
Amid the idyllic setting of sun, sand, surfers, skin, and more abs than an Abercrombie catalog — levity was the order of the morn. “These guys are decent!” Love bellowed with playful sarcasm five minutes into the match, fast setting a tone for a contest that offered plentiful digs–both verbal and sandy.
Not that the double-double machine embarrassed himself by any means.
After looking tight in warm-ups and slow throughout much of the first set, the 6-10’ Love picked up the pace in short time and played a bounce above his new rookie status.
While both Scott and Hyden often navigated around Love’s height advantage at the net with a precision befitting their Open seeding, the Timberwolf was sound in his sets and offered an ascending (and impressive) mix of balance, quickness, footwork, touch and athleticism as the match evolved toward the second set. In the last 10-minutes of the match, Love basically carried his side and was even the dominant court player for a number of points.
“For not having played, I thought he did really well. And he’s a big guy: he gets up and hits the ball high and hard,” Scott said post-match. “Just like any sport, to pick up the finer, little things you’re going to need reps and a lot of practice. He turned and dug a ball once and I was like, ‘Wow. This is pretty athletic. Most people kind of roll over the ball but he went down and got it.”
“I was joking with him and saying, ‘ I bet you want to get us on the hard court after this,’” Scott laughed. “He was like, ‘Alright. One on one.’ He’d probably just back us down and dunk on us.”
Down 20 pounds from the close of the NBA season, Love indeed appeared in fine condition. Between fielding questions about the lockout and the Wolves’ head coaching search, he spoke about the fitness and leg exercises offered by his volleyball conditioning. When not active in the sand, he added that he’s spent the off-season fine-tuning body and mind alike with regular yoga classes coupled with an American Pop Culture course he’s taking at UCLA.
Post-match, Love spoke with beachy ease, yet noted that his competitive juices were indeed in full flow during play. Referencing a childhood yarn that found him threatening to run away from home after a tennis loss to his dad, the All-Star no doubt convinced those in attendance that he didn’t show up just to putz around.
“Using a little Malcolm Gladwell: I have my 10,000 hours in for basketball and they have their 10,000 hours in for volleyball,” Love said after the loss, sounding as though a continued lockout would find more volleyball in his future.
“So I just need to start working my way up and that’s gonna take some time,” Love added. “ So who knows? In six, 12, 18 months, if I keep playing, I think I could be decent. More than anything, it’s an excuse to go to the beach. So why not? It was definitely tough going against the best team in the country and I was just hoping they’d take it easy on the serve because those guys – when the wind becomes a factor and that ball is coming at you and they’re basically spiking it with the serve. The ball is curving at you and it could be a knuckleball; it’s not easy to pass on the first hit.”
Are we looking at a “Bo Knows Beach” or “Primetime” scenario here? Likely not. But Love was readily convincing that he’s making fine use of his time while the suits grind over the lockout ink.