“He said he was absolutely sure and had told me that very beautifully right there in the card.”
His parents’ split had been tough on Loudon, who was a kind and sensitive kid.
He and his mom had abruptly left Vermont and moved back to Illinois, where her parents lived. He hadn’t had time to say goodbye to his pals in Vermont and he struggled to make new friends.
“He was a very, very thin boy,” Laura said. “He didn’t gain weight basically until the divorce. I’m sure there were things that upset him. When you’re the youngest (of five kids) and it happens and you’re at home, it can be a very difficult situation.”
He found his footing thanks to the guidance and embrace he got from his mom and her parents, especially his grandfather, Barton Love, a Korean War veteran who was an accomplished golfer and soon formed an indelible – and sometimes tough love – bond with his grandson.
“He just loved Loudon so much.” Laura said of her dad, who passed away two years ago. “He enjoyed every moment with him.”
Barton Love, Loudon's late grandfather. CONTRIBUTED
By high school, Loudon – who had continued to grow – began to make a name for himself in football and basketball. An offensive and defensive lineman, he was recruited by the likes of Illinois, Bowling Green and Western Illinois in football and Northern Kentucky, Northern Illinois, South Dakota State and a few other schools in basketball.
But on the very last football play of his senior season, he tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee. It cost him his basketball season and, as his weight soared to nearly 320 pounds, schools pulled their scholarship offers to him.
South Dakota State, then coached by Scott Nagy, didn’t renege. But when Nagy left the school that spring after 21 seasons and took the Wright State job, Love – paying back the loyalty the coach had shown him – followed him to Ohio.
Over the past five seasons at Wright State – a redshirt year, followed by four seasons on the court -- Love has grown up while he’s gotten smaller.
In two months, he’ll be 23. His body has gone through an amazing transformation and he’s down now to just over 250 pounds. Although WSU listed him as 6-foot-9 his first three seasons here, the past two he’s been presented as 6-foot-8.
Through it all – and unbeknownst to many outside the Raiders’ program or Love’s circle of family and friends – he has retained that sensibility and empathy he had as a kid.
That’s the most remarkable part of him.
He’s become one of the greatest players in WSU hoops history. He’s the Raiders’ all-time leading rebounder – he has 1,076 going into tonight’s game against Milwaukee at the Nutter Center – and he’s sixth in career points with 1,694. By season’s end, he could be third, behind only Bill Edwards and DaShaun Wood.
He was named the Horizon League Rookie of the Year as a freshman, the conference’s player of the year last season and is currently on the midseason watch list for the Lou Henson Award given to the top Division I mid-major player in the country.
Having already graduated and now working on his masters, it’s a good bet Love will forgo the extra eligibility year the NCAA is awarding all players from this truncated COVID-19 season and go off to play professionally after this season.
“I’m concentrating on this season and haven’t made a decision yet,” Love said. “And when I do, my coaches and my mom will be the first to know.”
He said it with matter-of-fact earnestness and it made you see once again, the more things have changed with him, the more they have remained the same.,
‘He’s a joy to coach’
No one appreciates Love more than Nagy:
“From my perspective, he’s been a godsend. Changing positions like I did after 21 years, I feel like God sent Loudon to get me through this period. He helped us start what we were trying to do here.”
Still recovering from knee surgery and working to get his weight down, Love redshirted that first year here.
In the four seasons (115 games) he’s played for the Raiders, he’s averaged 14.7 points and 9.4 rebounds a game – he’s averaging 25 points and 11 rebounds over the last three games – and WSU has gone 86-25.
Over the years, especially in the beginning, the relationship between Nagy and his straight-laced focus, and Love, the “gentle giant” as his mom referred to him with his ever-changing hairstyles, could have been a remake of The Odd Couple, that popular comedic movie that starred Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
But now Nagy and Love have each helped the other grow and there’s a real bond between them.
Wright State head coach Scott Nagy, center, watches the action against Green Bay as center Loudon Love waits to reenter during a men's basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED
Laura said her son looks at Nagy in some of the same way he looked at his late grandad – with respect and an understanding that his tough love is meant to make him better.
“He’s a joy to coach,” Nagy said. “And for our players, he’s been a great teammate. He doesn’t have much desire for personal glory, which I appreciate. Sometimes, though, I wish he was a little more selfish in terms of his play. "
Love becomes uneasy when he’s the focal point of the fans, the opposing teams or the press:
“Actually, I dislike it because I think it takes away from my teammates and how important they are. Honestly, a lot of them are more skilled than I am.
“I don’t like all the attention. We’re not here for the individual stuff. We’re a team.”
He could also do without being viewed as the team’s musclebound enforcer, though there is cardboard cutout of him – propped up, fanlike, in the seats at the Nutter Center – that shows him in a bulging biceps, double flex.
“I know it’s how they want to set a tone and it’s what I try to accomplish on the court,” he said. “But yeah, there’s more to me than just a flat, cardboard cutout.”
Laura remembered a school conference when Loudon was little: “His teacher said, ‘What an empathetic little boy! He cares about everybody,’ And I still see that in him today.”
She told how it’s bothered him when players he’s befriended have left the team early to play elsewhere.
And if you watched him before games in years past, you saw the friendship he had with one of the managers and how they’d go out on the court to shoot.
Then, during Senior Night last year, he honored his wheelchair-bound teammate, Ryan Custer by taking off his usual No, 11 jersey before the game so he could wear Custer’s no-longer-used No. 33 and give it one final spotlighted moment on the court.
‘He’s given me his trust’
Nagy said he especially appreciates Love’s loyalty.
“For whatever reason, he’s given me his trust,” Nagy said. “In this day and age, to keep a really good player like him in a program like ours, is really hard. So many people try to pick them off. But he’s stayed with us because he believes in us and what we’re doing.”
Laura said her son has chronicled his career here in a daily journal he keeps.
“He’s really a good writer,” she said, noting that Mother’s Day message and then referring to a school assignment he once had:
“The teacher had wanted them to come up with a story on a song. And he did Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’
“At the end of the paper, the teacher put a dollar sign and wrote: ‘Well, Loudon, it looks like you probably will earn some money one day doing this.’”
Wright State's Loudon Love as a kid. CONTRIBUTED
The teacher was right.
Love came to Wright State and wrote a story that put him in the Raiders’ record book and likely will get him to the pros, but most of all, it put him deep into the hearts of a lot of folks here.
His is the story of Love.
It’s quite a Valentine.