Before each game he plays for Green Bay, Carrington Love beats his chest, where there is a tattoo emblazoned of his father, who was murdered when Love was three years old. The ritual is an homage. Before he puts his jersey on and heads out onto the court, the sweep of it all taking hold, Love wants to remind himself why he plays this game.
“It’s for him,” Love says of dad.
I first spoke to Love 18 months ago, while doing a story on Keifer Sykes. Love’s vocal delivery hasn’t changed — the rapid delivery, and charming confidence. Nor has his appreciation diminished for the time spent with Sykes. Those two bonded like brothers.
Their birthdays fell within two weeks of each other. They’d both lost their fathers. Sykes was from Chicago, Love from Milwaukee. That meant Bulls vs. Bucks, Packers vs. Bears. They’d joke about the rivalries, debate which city produced the better basketball players. You know. How brothers do.
Last season, Sykes and Love formed one of the better backcourts in the country. There was the time they took down Miami, then ranked No. 15 in the country. Love, known as a defensive stopper for his first few seasons in Green Bay, dropped a team-high 20 points, along with nine rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocks.
Sykes has now graduated. Brian Wardle, who recruited Love to Green Bay, has moved on coach Bradley. Suddenly, Love is a senior, expected to usher in a new era for the program. Good thing this kid’s got confidence in spades — and the requisite work ethic to back it up. Look no further than the 28 he dropped in a win over Georgia State last December.
On Thursday, he took time to speak with Alley Whoops.
Alley Whoops: You had a huge game last season on the road against Miami, and in the rematch against Georgia State. Do you consider those to be two of your best performances?
Carrington Love: Yeah, it was. Playing against (R.J.) Hunter and Ryan (Harrow) for Georgia State, and then taking on Miami brought the best out in me. I always thought I could play at the highest level, so to go against guys like that, to show the nation what I can do, and show my teammates that we can win in that type of environment, was special.
AW: Keifer Sykes once spoke of the “Chicago” in his game, a toughness that comes from playing against top competition growing up. Can you point to a “Milwaukee” in your own game? Is it toughness, too?
CL: Yeah, I think it’s a Midwest thing. Guys on the West and East Coasts, and down South, they get more recognition than us. They play for bigger programs. I developed that grittiness and heart, picking up full court defense, playing physical, showing ‘em we good where we come from.
AW: You were 5 feet 6 as a high school junior. (Love is now listed at 6–1, 171 pounds.) Did that add to your toughness?
CL: Yeah, I really wasn’t physically ready for the college game until I was a senior in high school. But I always looked at defense and toughness as part of my strengths. I was a little guy, skinny as a noodle, diving on the floor, wrestling with big men for rebounds. I just had grit.
AW: You’ve referenced your brother as a role model. Does that apply off the court, as well as in your basketball development?
CL: My brother has been my role model on and off the court all my life. We had it rough growing up, and he was in and out of the jail system, but he always told me, “You gotta put everything you got into basketball, if that’s what you love.” He knew that was a way for me to be successful.
AW: Keifer Sykes is another role model you’ve cited. In what ways did he impact you?
CL: What I admired most about Keifer was how he handled himself as a father. That meant a lot. Having a kid, he matured a lot faster, and he took that fatherhood and spread it to being a leader for the team on the court, as well as the ways he conducted himself in the classroom. I admired most how he carried himself as a man. He was only 21 years old, but with his heart and spirit he seemed so much older.
AW: This is a big offseason for Green Bay. Sykes has graduated, and Brian Wardle took the job at Bradley. What were the first meetings like with (new Phoenix head coach) Linc Darner?
CL: The very first meeting with coach Darner, I won’t forget it. He sat me donw and told me, “It’s going to be real simple. If you trust in me, I trust in you.” He went through what his new coaching staff can do for the program. He’d already watched film on me, and he told me I can excel.
Every step has been good. I’ve actually had some of the best workouts I’ve ever had with coach Darner. Along with his assistants, there’s four coaches in the gym, and they focus on one player. They develop you, and they work on your strengths. He’s in there as you’re getting 500 to 600 shots up.
Individual workouts in the summer run for 45 minutes, and I’ve never had a 1 on 1 like that, where it’s just you and the coaches, since I’ve been in college. It’s always been point guards and shooting guards in a group together. But coach Darner specializes in working one at a time.
AW: What are you most excited for, when you look ahead to 2015–16?
CL: What I’m most excited for is to show the nation how I can be a facilitator on offense. I want to show I’ve expanded my game, that I can lead my team to an NCAA tournament game. We haven’t done that, since I’ve been here.
I’m a senior now, and I want to show that we can make it happen, especially this season, when people don’t see it as being possible. I know it is possible, and the guys in the locker room know it is, too.
AW: In addition to practicing on campus, in what ways have you worked on running point this offseason?
CL: In Milwaukee, we have open gyms with pros and top college players. So I’ve been working on faciliating and being a leader, always handling the ball, distributing, working on my jump shot. I go from being the 2 or the 3, to being the key guy now that Keifer’s gone. I want to be a solid point guard for this team on both ends.
AW: What do you see as the biggest strengths of this season’s Green Bay team?
CL: Being the underdog — most definitely. We’ll be overlooked. The last two seasons, we were the better team the majority of the time we stepped onto the court. Now, it’s flipped. But we’ll pull off some big upsets.