He was 10 years old and living in Vermont when he said his mom told him he wasn’t going to school the next day.
“I was like, ‘OK! I get to stay home!’” recalled Loudon Love, Wright State’s standout 6-foot-8 junior post player. “She woke me up the next morning, I think it was a Thursday, and told me to pack a bag with some stuff I really wanted. Some clothes, things like that. I was just a kid, so maybe a few toys I really wanted, too.
“Then she said we had to go. I had no idea what we were doing. I didn’t realize we weren’t coming back. We drove from Vermont to Illinois where my mom is from, where my grandparents lived.“
Love said his parents had gone through a long, tough divorce and his mom had just gotten full custody of him a week or so earlier. He said their life wasn’t going that well there and he wasn’t seeing his four older siblings that much.
“I was still sad because I didn’t get to say goodbye to any of my friends,” he said, although noting later, when he was in high school, he returned to Vermont during spring break and was able to reconnect with some of them.
“When we first got to Illinois, we lived in DeKalb for part of a school year and the summer and then we moved to Geneva,” he said. “My mom said it would be a fresh start for us, that we’d be around a supporting cast and it turned out that way.”
He found strong role models in his late grandparents and especially his mom, who was his hard-working, unwavering champion.
Later, just before he came to Wright State, he legally changed his last name from Volbrecht to Love, the last name of his grandparents and mom. He wanted to honor them for what they’d done in his life.
But he admitted he didn’t feel comfortable when he first got to Geneva. He was bigger than most kids, he was an introvert and had no friends.
The breakthrough came when he became involved in sports.
“In middle school I remember walking out the first day for football and not knowing anybody and I’m think ‘Ohhh, this is gonna suck! I didn’t want to do it, but my mom pushed me into it.
“As it turned out, football and basketball made it a lot easier for me to make friends.”
And feel good about himself, too.
He soon stood out in his athletic ventures, especially at Geneva High where he was a Division I football recruit – offered scholarships by Illinois, Bowling Green, Western Illinois and others – and then a sought-after basketball player, even though he missed his senior season with a torn ACL and meniscus suffered in his final football game.
As a sophomore, he’d gotten his first basketball offer from Northern Kentucky, the school the 24-6 Raiders play on the road Friday night in the regular season finale.
Wright State trounced NKU, 95-63, at the Nutter Center in January in a game where the Norse were without their leading scorer, 6-foot-6 Dantez Walton, who was injured.
The Raiders now are one game up in the standings and with a victory over the 21-8 Norse could clinch the outright Horizon League crown and a No. 1 seed in the upcoming league tournament.
Love will be a focal point of the NKU fans Friday because of his stellar, often physical play and his muscled physique that’s capped by braided or top-notched hair.
After redshirting his first year at WSU, he was named the Horizon League’s Newcomer of the Year as a redshirt freshman and last season won first team all-league honors.
He now leads the Raiders in scoring (16.1 points per game) and rebounding (9.5 per game) and blocked shots. He’s second in the league in boards and blocks, third in field goal percentage and seventh in scoring.
He is a frontrunner for the Horizon League Player of the Year.
‘A good judge of character’
“My mom liked Coach Nagy a lot and she doesn’t like a lot of people,” Love said with a smile as he recalled his college recruitment. “She’s a good judge of character.”
Laura Love, whom Loudon said is something of an introvert herself, did everything she could to support and encourage her youngest son.
“It took a lot of strength for her to leave Vermont back when we did,” he said. “But she’s always wanted better for me.”
He said she liked Nagy because “he was honest with us the whole time.
“A lot of times you go on a visit and coaches just say what you want to hear or what they think you want to hear. Some of it just sounded sad coming out their mouth. You just knew it wasn’t true.
“He just told my mom, ‘I promise you I’ll make him a better person and a better player.’”
But Love admitted building the bond he now has with Nagy took time and understanding on both sides:
“Off the court, he’s one of those guys who’s comfortable with silence. A lot of people are uncomfortable with that. And when you’re a young guy and not used to it, you’re always wondering, ‘Am I saying something wrong? Or maybe he just doesn’t like me.’
“It took me a while to realize he was just really comfortable with silence and it doesn’t mean something is wrong.”
Last Saturday – when the Raiders topped Cleveland State on the road, 81-74, in overtime to give Nagy his 500th career victory – Love saw another of his coach’s traits on display.
“He’s a perfectionist, which is one reason he does so well,” Love said. “With that, he recognizes when he does something right and when he does it wrong – as a coach, a dad, whatever, — and he builds off it.
“He’s honest, especially with himself. The rest of us struggle with looking in the mirror and calling ourselves out for our actions. But if he thinks he didn’t do something the way he wanted, he’ll say it. I’ve seen him tear up in front of us over something he thought he should have done better with us.”
Then there’s that Cleveland State game.
“We had just won on the road in overtime and he had gotten is 500th win,” Love said with smile. “He was walking to the bus and giving high-fives and saying ‘thanks’ and then, going back to being a perfectionist, he comes up to me and says ‘AAhh, we just need a 10 offensive rebound game from you.’
“He didn’t mean it in a bad manner. It’s just he wants the best from us and that game we had gotten out-rebounded.
“At the time you want say, ‘We just won!’ but I get it. If we want to win the next one we’ve got to rebound better.”
Nagy worries he gets on Love too hard sometimes, especially, he said, because his big man “takes it to heart.”
And as anyone who’s around Love enough knows, you won’t find a nicer guy off the court.
“Yeah, on the court some people who don’t know me might think I’m somewhat of a jackass,” he admitted.
“For me, no matter who it is, when it’s game time it’s us and them. I don’t see a need for friendliness or talking. Afterward it’s different. I’m more relaxed, more fun loving. I try to be the man I should be.”
You see that in many ways, whether it’s how he interacts with fans to the way he’s bonded with Ryan Custer, his WSU teammate who was left wheelchair-bound after a swimming pool accident three years ago. He visits Custer’s home in Cincinnati and spent the Christmas break there this past year.
He attributes this to is upbringing and the culture that Nagy and his staff have built into the program. It bonds players and it also produces victories, although Love said no one is satisfied with the 24-6 record:
“There is more work to do. We don’t want to share the league title. And sure, 24 wins are something to be proud of, but the truth is, when you’re a mid-major team 24 wins doesn’t do much for you. We don’t want to just have the NIT to fall back on. We have bigger aspirations.”
And with that in mind, Love – who one day will play professionally – said he’s looking forward to returning to WSU for his senior season.
“Coach Nagy made a commitment to me, especially freshman year when he gave me such a big role,” Love said. “And I committed to him when I first signed up here. And I stand by that now.”
Loudon Love’s days of packing up and leaving quickly are long past.
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