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Coach K holds on to Love

Richard and Lynette Love thought their son was done with college, but they were wrong.

After the Green Bay Packers cut their son Reggie from preseason camp, he decided, with a bit of reluctance but plenty of urge, to return to Duke and pursue a second degree, taking his last year of basketball eligibility.

“It was a hard decision to make,” Love said. “I really wanted to come back—it was definitely what I wanted to do. But I guess there comes a point in your life where especially your parents say, ‘Well, college should be over now.’ So that made it a more difficult choice than anything, but as far as wanting to come back to play, that was never an issue.”

Love played four years as a wideout on the football team, totaling 75 receptions for 895 yards and six touchdowns. But during his freshman and sophomore seasons, he also played sparingly as a freshman walk-on on the basketball team and backed up Carlos Boozer during Duke’s 2001 championship run. For his career, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound forward averaged 1.1 points and 1.4 rebounds per game.

This year, the Blue Devils are thin in the frontcourt. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will rely heavily on Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams to soak up a majority of the minutes in the paint. The two juniors, however, proved that foul trouble can sometimes be a huge dilemma, and Love gives Krzyzewski an athlete—and a body—off the bench.

“Reggie gives us another guy,” Williams said. “We’ve only got two big guys on our team this year, and he gives us another big guy kind of presence. He’s a person who fits in. He doesn’t have to have a major role—just come in, play his role, do his thing, get some rebounds, try to relieve me and Shav.”

The senior is also in the best basketball shape of his life, having gone through his first preseason conditioning program with the team. Krzyzewski said he has been impressed with his presence in practice and his six-point, eight-rebound, three-assist performance during the Blue-White Scrimmage last Saturday.

“Reggie will play significant minutes for us,” said Krzyzewski, stressing that Love would be a part of any regular rotation. “He’s a good player. We have a very mature guy who wants to be a good role player for us. I’m surprised he’s as ball-friendly as he is. We’re very fortunate to have him.”

But things have not always been smooth between Love and Krzyzewski. During Love’s sophomore season, Krzyzewski suspended him after Love was charged with driving while intoxicated Nov. 10, 2001. The charge was later dismissed, but Love still missed the end of the regular season and the entire ACC Tournament, returning for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Love did not return to the basketball team his junior year for unspecified reasons and only played football. Nude photographs of Love at a North Carolina fraternity house also circulated around the Internet and even in the national media.

Had Love continued as a two-sport athlete, he would have simultaneously played out his four years of eligibility. But with the way things worked out, head football coach Ted Roof can now watch his former receiver return from the stands instead of the sidelines.

“It’s great that he came back to do this and probably great for Reggie to be around Coach K and that basketball program, with all the success they had and all the things they do to develop young people,” Roof said. “I think it’ll be good for Reggie, and from what I understand he’s going to help them out too, so it’s good for Duke.”

In the long run, though, Love wants to make a living in the NFL. But in Packers camp this year Love was one of nine receivers vying for a contract. The team kept four for their main roster and one for the practice squad, leaving Love and three others as the odd men out.

“Hopefully it will work out eventually,” said Love, who chose to return to Duke over playing football in Europe or in the Arena Football League. “At that time I was not a good fit for them. Hopefully next time I’ll get in better shape and make more plays in camp and I’ll be able to make a team.”

For now, Love can play for a team he originally made five years ago. As the only player on the roster to have won a national championship, he bridges two generations of Duke basketball, however unconventionally, to give a team with only one returning scholarship senior some unconditional love.

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