Love of the game
Sneakers squeak, you hear the sound of feet pounding on plywood, deep voices shouting for the ball and then the sweet sound of a swish — the basketball falling right through the net making that noise that any basketball player loves to hear.
For some, it’s two points on the scoreboard, but for Dave Love it is the sound that signifies his life — his ticket to the big show his life as a shooting coach with the Phoenix Suns.
Originally from Calgary, Love, 34, now sits and watches the Suns practice while paying particular attention Louis Amundsen, a six-foot-nine, 238-pound forward who last season had a free throw average of 44.2 per cent. With an NBA free throw average of 77.1, it’s Love’s job to get Amundsen’s numbers up to par.
So the question is how did a Canadian who only played basketball in junior high and high school get a coaching gig in the NBA? His journey started at age 13, when he went to a Calgary 88’s basketball game and met player Chip Engelland.
Love described Engelland as the player that would stay after the games to sign autographs and chat with fans. Game after game, Love continued to stay and shoot and talk with Chip.
“I guess he just saw a kid who loves the game and needed a bit of practice and spent several hours after his practice explaining his way of shooting to me,” said Love.
“I was young enough and dumb enough not to do it but I was smart enough to listen. So that became the beginning of my teaching.”
After high school, Love went to Mount Royal where he took general studies as well as two years of broadcasting. While at Mount Royal he met his first pupil, Josh Feist, who started out playing at Mount Royal but moved to the University of Calgary. Love worked with Feist bringing him back to the basics of the shot. They worked all summer leading up tot Feist’s university debut.
Feist must have shown improvement because the university allowed Love to continue working with him and the following season Love was asked to coach other players as well.
“I have grown up in a family where everyone else is a teacher,” explained Love. “Both my parents are teachers and my sister has become a teacher. So I think that side is relatively natural.”
Having never played basketball past the high school level, Love felt he had a disadvantage.
“I think it would have been easier for me, just for my own personal confidence if I would have played in college, just being able to relate a little bit more to what the players are going through in their day-to-day lives.”
Along with helping university and college players, Love also started “Love for the Game” shooting camps for all ages.
Travelling around Alberta, going to any school or club that would take him in, Love showed his very specific technique of shooting. While observing all the different programs around the province he saw potential within the kids and the coaches that were teaching those kids.
“I see a lot of people doing similar things that I’m teaching,” he explained.
“I see people attempting, but in my opinion maybe not being as structured as they should.”
Those camps are what brought Engelland back into the picture; Love and Engelland had remained in contact after Engelland left Calgary. On a visit back to Canada, Engelland told Love to put him to work for a day.
At that point in time, Engelland was working as an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets and wanted to help Love promote his camp even further.
“He invited me to speak at one of his camps that he put together,” explained Engelland. “There was always an interest and hunger and then you are seeing the fruits of that and the benefits of him connecting with people, because in teaching that is the goal.”
At that point Engelland realized that what he had now wasn’t the young boy that rebounded for him after games, but a future colleague. He saw the drive that Love had and his ability to connect to those around him and knew that there was success that would follow.
That success is now what Love is facing as his new “gig” in the NBA is starting up and he knows Engelland had a lot do with it.
“He (Engelland) has been unbelievable. Next to my dad he has been the most influential person in my life,” he explained.
Engelland, who is currently in his fifth season as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, recommended Love for the job with the Suns.
Steve Kerr, general manager of the Suns approached Engelland, asking if he could help a young player with his shot.
Considering the rivalry between the Spurs and the Suns, Engelland passed on the job, but Kerr wanted to know if he knew of someone that would be more than willing.
“I could guarantee Steve that Dave would teach him (Amundsen) the basics, the fundamentals of basketball and he would do it in a way that would be interesting and connect with the young player,” explained Engelland.
“And from all I have heard, that is what Dave is doing there (Phx).”
Engelland then told Love to expect a call from Kerr back in December and that he should be contacted within a week. For that entire week, Love explained that he was anticipating the call.
“I spent that week on pins and needles every time the phone rang, hoping that that would be the phone call.”
Several weeks had passed and the phone call never came. Those weeks rolled into months and Love tried to forget about the job and focus on what he was doing in Calgary, but he never fully gave up on the opportunity.
It was Easter Monday when an unknown number showed up on Love’s phone. Not recognizing the number he let it go to voicemail. The person he had been waiting to call for five months had just left a message offering Love his dream job.
“He said ‘Dave this is Steve Kerr from the Phoenix Suns. I’m not sure you’ll remember me but…’ and I thought geez yeah I remember you, don’t know if you remember me. It was surreal,” explained Love.
Starting at the end of September, Love travelled to Phoenix for training camp where he got his first real glimpse behind the scenes of an NBA team.
“It’s cool. That’s such a poor word to chose,” he said.
“Its something that when you are just there it is a basketball practice. The only thing that is really overwhelming to me is the logo. It’s the NBA.
“The players are all great guys, they aren’t that much taller, or bigger or physically intimidating then the players at the U of C.
“If you took the practice jerseys off and put on Dino jerseys or Cougar practice jerseys it probably wouldn’t be intimidating at all.”
Love isn’t the only Canadian working with the Suns; there is one player that stands at a tiny six-foot-three, who apparently is a pretty decent ball handler. Some people know him as Steve Nash.
“He’s really interesting,” says Love.
“The ball also spends more time on his foot than in his hands. Any time a pass is made he will juggle the basketball as a soccer player about seven or eight times then pick it when he needs to.
“I would guess if you were to ask him his favourite sport is soccer.”
For right now, Love is strictly working with Amundsen, although there is perhaps talk of him getting another player and to him it doesn’t really matter who it is, it’s just an honour to be there.
“Anybody would be fantastic. That sounds cliché to say but once you get into this situation…. People ask me ‘Well are you going to work with Steve Nash?’ and, well, Steve doesn’t need help, I think he’s doing just fine.”