WESTFIELD, Ind. — The whistle bleated, while Caleb Love raised his hands to his hips and tipped his head back to gaze up at the Pacer Athletic Center’s rafters. When the point guard for Brad Beal Elite turned his gaze to the sideline, coach Corey Frazier’s eyes were wide while poked at his temples with his index fingers.
A crack team of cryptologists weren’t required to decipher its meaning: Use your head.
Trailing by three points to Team Takeover and with 27.4 seconds left on the clock, Frazier wanted his team to be smart but also sit down, defend, rebound and get one final crack at drawing even. Instead, Love quickly latched onto a grab jersey in a bid to stop the clock. When the horn blared, the St. Louis-based program had dropped the opening game of the Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League session that unfolded last weekend.
For Love, who stars at CBC and is among a trio of priority prospects for Missouri in the Class of 2020, the moment underscores the nuances of evolving from a scoring point guard into a lead guard who can commandeer an entire roster.
“Time management,” Love said a day when asked what skill he wants refine. “There’s a time and a place for everything. ... You have to control the game. So I want to work on my ball-handling and my decision-making.”
EYBL Profile | Caleb Love, CG, 6-foot-3, 170 pounds
Heading out on the grassroots circuit this summer offers Love, who is the nation’s No. 33 prospect, the prime opportunity to prove he can pilot an elite backcourt, one with two top-40 talents in Moses Moody and Cam’Ron Fletcher — another member of MU’s coveted troika — running the wings.
Exiting the weekend, Love is averaging 4.9 assists per game, a tally balanced a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio and a 16.3 turnover percentage. The last two numbers could be better, but they aren’t alarming. Instead, they hint at the potential Love’s trying to harness. With a little cleanup work and more seat time, he could become the kind of distributor suitors such as Louisville and North Carolina envision.
On Friday night against Team Takeover, Love dished out five assists, but there was a myriad of questionable decisions down the stretch from he could draw lessons.
After opening the fourth quarter with a 54-47 lead, BBE went six minutes without a field goal, it’s only points coming on free throws as Takeover used a 13-2 run to build a four-point lead. In the waning minutes, Love launched a quick, off-balance three on a secondary break, turned the ball over on a fastbreak with an ill-advised behind-the-back pass and capped by his late foul — decisions that marred a game where he scored 21 points and doled out five assists.
After Love racked up 18 first-half points, Takeover rolled out trapping Love out of ball-screens and slowly ramped up the pressure, switching between variations of a full-court press to throw BBE off schedule. In EYBL play, there’s a 24-second shot clock, and getting into an effective set with just 15 seconds left poses a challenge, especially when you consider BBE’s sporadic outside shooting — they’re hitting just 27.3 percent from behind the arc — enabled Team Takeover to shrink gaps.
At times, Love ran a gantlet: splitting a trap and get up to top-speed before help rotated over. It explains how he tallied just three points and one field goal after the break. Yet the next morning, Love willingly receded into the background, quietly racking up 10 assists while a slumping Moody poured in 32 points and nine boards in a victory over The Family Detroit.
When he does pilot BBE in the half court, Love operates in actions based around a high ball-screen, primarily when he’s operating out of the slot. Over the course of three games, he thrived when CBC teammate Josh Wallace would trot from the opposite block and set a flat ball-screen that enabled Love to barrel down the left side of the lane.
Meanwhile, two shooters stationed themselves — one in the corner and the other on the wing — for catch-and-shoots on the weak side of the court. “I love the pick-and-roll,” Love said, “coming off the pick-and-roll, penetrating, kicking out, being able to lay it off, dish off to my big man, throw lobs.”
Not only is the read straightforward but it gives Loves ample options as a scorer. If a defender ducks under the screen, he can pull-up from behind the arc. If the defense wants to give some ground but force a shot in the mid-range, Love’s content to use a feathery floater. And if he gets an angle, he’ll just slash downhill.
“I can score at three levels,” Love said. “A lot of guys can’t do the mid-range. A lot of guys want to shoot 3s or go dunk the ball. But with that mid-range, they can’t really stop it. They don’t know when you’re gonna pull up. And so that’s what I like about mid-range.”
Love toggles roles within games, too. Recently, Tyler Beard, a point guard out of Chicago and the No. 86 prospect nationally, joined the fold, an addition that occasionally pushes Love off the ball.
Yet he’s just as potent, shooting 40.5 percent from behind the 3-point arc and generating one-man fast breaks by jumping on lazy passes as the ball reverses sides of the floor. When BBE quickly outlets the ball off a miss, Love shows no hesitation assaulting the rim as the opponent scrambles to sort through cross-matches.
“A lot of guys try to deny me,” Love said. “So getting backdoor, getting dunks, moving without the ball, getting rebounds. You gotta move without the ball. You can’t just be one dimensional. You can’t always have the ball in your hands. That’s not realistic.”
Ask Love what positions he envisions playing at the collegiate level, and he doesn’t hesitate: point guard.
So far, each of the six schools hotly pursuing him — Virginia, Louisville, Tennessee, Indiana, Mizzou and Texas — are each is touting him as the conductor for their programs. All the while, North Carolina looms. The Tar Heels have remained in regular contact but have yet to extend a formal offer.
Aside from refined pedigrees, it’s easy to see why Love would find Louisville or UNC enticing. Cardinals coach Chris Mack packed up and brought his ball-screen heavy offense with him from Xavier. And we all know the freedom Tar Heels head man Roy Williams extends to a point guard he trusts to operate his fabled secondary break.
“I definitely fit their style,” Love said of UNC.
Ironically, though, he’ll take his first official visit in June to Virginia, which is an obvious stylistic foil to the juggernaut in Chapel Hill. “Obviously they just won a national championship,” Love said. “They want me to come in and be that lead point guard coming in next year.”
Two weeks ago, Duke appeared poised to enter the fray for Love’s services — a dalliance that had Missouri fans on edge. That threat appeared to pass last Thursday when five-star recruit Jeremy Roach committed to the Blue Devils. “Duke is off the list, I guess,” Love said.
So where are the Tigers in all of this? Squarely in the mix.
Earlier this month, Love hosted coach Cuonzo Martin and his staff for an in-home visits, and he’s made multiple trips to Columbia. On the heels of a 15-17 campaign, the calculus behind the Tigers message is straightforward.
“They want me to come in, not just be the lead point guard but take control of the team,” Love said. “Obviously they had a rough season last season, they just want me to turn the team around. They say, why not do it at home?”
By now, there’s not much he doesn’t know about the program sitting two hours away from his house. Yet there’s still some resonance with MU’s pitch. “Mizzou’s obviously the hometown school,” he said. “Just being able to play in front of my family is a big piece, but I’m also not basing (my decision) off how close it is.”