Caleb Love aims to adjust quickly to perimeter-oriented Wildcats

Jul 27, 2023, 12:09 PM

Caleb Love’s perception in the college basketball world is one of an enigma as he arrives to the Arizona Wildcats as a transfer.

His player profile can be distilled in his run with the North Carolina Tar Heels to the NCAA title game in 2022.

He put together a 30-point outburst in the Sweet 16 and a 28-point game against rival Duke in the Final Four. Love also posted a five-point, six-turnover, five-foul game in the second round and a 6-for-17 shooting performance in the Elite Eight. Many Tar Heels fans probably most remember his 5-for-24 night in the championship game loss to the Kansas Jayhawks.

On paper, Love could fill the shooting shoes vacated by now-West Virginia point guard Kerr Kriisa, but Love joins a revamped Arizona team that already includes on-ball guards in Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley and Kylan Boswell.

Speaking for the first time with reporters since landing on campus in Tucson, Love said Wednesday that he’s open and accepting of fitting his volume-shooter profile onto the Wildcats.

“I think we can be really elite as far as how versatile we are. Three totally different players in terms of our games,” Love told reporters when asked about the main perimeter trio.

“My movement off the ball, that’s going to be the biggest jump I have as far as playing off the ball a little bit more,” he added. “I kind of had the ball in my hands a lot in North Carolina. Moving without the ball, cutting, screening … I think that’s going to be the biggest transition.”

Love’s reputation might not be completely fair.

While he shoots from distance and often, he did get to the rim for 27% of his attempts, according to Love shot a respectable 40% on a quarter of his shots that were two-point jumpers last season. In other words, he’s not limited to camping on the three-point line.

His 2022-23 season, like UNC’s as a whole, didn’t go as smoothly as the title game run a year prior.

He averaged 16.7 points and 2.8 assists per game last season on 38% accuracy overall and 30% shooting from three. The three-point accuracy on 7.4 attempts per game fell off drastically from his 36% shooting in 2021-22.

The Tar Heels began last year ranked No. 1 in the nation but went 20-13 and missed the NCAA Tournament entirely, becoming the first preseason No. 1 team in history to do so.

Love initially hit the transfer portal, committing to Michigan, but his credits didn’t transfer smoothly over. So he re-entered the portal and quickly landed with the Wildcats, in part because of a prior relationship with assistant coach Steve Robinson, a former UNC assistant who recruited Love to Chapel Hill, N.C.

“… (Robinson) just gave me a sort of comfort just knowing that he was here and knowing he had my best interest at heart,” Love said.

Arizona’s rich history of guards didn’t hurt Love’s recruitment. He’s familiar with Gilbert Arenas — the program’s most famous quick-trigger guard — Steve Kerr and Jason Gardner.

Love has known last year’s Wildcat starter, Courtney Ramey, dating back to his childhood in the St. Louis area.

But at the end of the day, head coach Tommy Lloyd’s up-tempo system also sold itself to Love.

“I just spent the whole day with the coaches and they showed me the campus,” Love said of his recruiting visit. “They set up a plan and they expressed how much they wanted me and how I could fit in their system. I just felt like everything made sense. It was an easy decision. I committed on my visit.

“Just the system as far as how much easier it was to get my shots off, how much easier to play through an offense that has so much movement. It’s going to be easier to maneuver and make plays, on and off the ball.”

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