- By Tom Archdeacon columnist
Loudon Love sure knows how to throw a birthday party.
Sunday was his mom, Laura’s birthday and she was at the Nutter Center to celebrate it. She had driven in from her home in the western suburbs of Chicago a couple of days ago to take in Wright State’s two weekend games and especially to see her son, the Raiders 6-foot-9, 275-pound freshman center.
Her daughter Autumn, an artist with a studio in Manhattan, had flown in from New York for the weekend as well.
Love got his mom a cake – “it was really good, a vanilla pound cake with butter cream frosting from Whole Foods,” his mom said – and some ice cream from Kilwins at the Greene.
They ate it after the Raiders’ 87-55 victory over Detroit Mercy on Friday night in a game where Loudon had 15 points and five rebounds.
“I left the presents up to my sister,” he claimed, although his mom said he provided a “great gift” Sunday.
He lit up Oakland University like a cake full of blazing birthday candles, torching the Grizzlies for 18 points and 17 rebounds to lead Raiders to the 64- 51 victory that keeps them at the top of the Horizon League standings at 9-1 and gives them a 17-6 mark overall.
Love’s impressive effort was just another installment in what has become, in the postgame words of head coach Scott Nagy, “an unbelievable season.”
And understand, Nagy is a guy loathe to pile on too much individual hype. But there’s no denying what’s been happening with his young big man.
Sunday was Love’s ninth double-double of the season. The 17 rebounds tied his career best which he also had against Oakland three weeks earlier on their floor.
He leads the league in rebounding with 9.3 boards per game, is the Raiders second leading scorer (12.6 ppg) and already has been named the Horizon League Freshman of the Week four times.
“We just hope he keeps going,” Nagy said. “But we’re awfully proud of him.”
Love drew lots of embrace this weekend from several difference fronts.
Saturday the team took part in a Samaritan’s Feet charity event at the Life Enrichment Center on Findlay Street in East Dayton. They washed the feet of people in need, then gave them new socks and new shoes.
Love was one of the players people seemed drawn too. Not just because of his size, but with the gentle, open nature he had with them.
“What a good guy,” said Marilyn Rockhold, a 62-year-old woman from West Dayton who had worked part of her life as a domestic and Saturday, for once, was being tended to by someone else.
Love made a fuss over the 5-foot-1, 102-pound woman with a cane, posed for a photo with her and thanked her for coming.
“He really was nice to me,” Rockhold said once he was out of earshot.
He was the same Sunday after the game when Raiders fans lined up for an autograph session with the players. Kids especially were drawn to him but so was one woman wearing a homemade shirt with his nickname,
“She had on a Big Lou shirt with as No. 11 on it,” he said, still a bit surprised. “ She wanted me to autograph it….I signed the number…on the back.”
Laura was not surprised to hear people are drawn to her son, especially the folks at Life Enrichment Center on Saturday.
“He’s always had an empathetic heart,” she said. “His teachers used to tell me how empathic he was. He just cares so much.
“People always told him, when they were critiquing him, ‘Loudon, you got to be a little tougher on the court.’”
She smiled: “Maybe that’s happening now.”
Oakland would certainly say so. In two games this season, he’s bullied them for 43 points and 34 rebounds.
“But he still shows empathy on the court when it comes to his teammates,” Autumn interjected. “He passes to them a lot.”
One of his favorite targets is fellow big man, 6-foot-11 Parker Ernsthausen. The two worked some high-low moves on Oakland, which forced the Grizzlies out of the early game double team they put on Love.
“We have been working on that in practice,” Love said. “ We’ve been doing it with Everett (6-foot-6 Everett Winchester). too.
“Once that happened Sunday it opened it up for me some. Our outside shooting did, too.”
His best move though came with just over 11 minutes left in the second half. He battled for two straight offensive rebounds on the same possession and on the second was fouled hard by Oakland’s 6-foot-8 James Beck.
The impact sent Love sprawling and he finished his tumble with a quick somersault.
It was an impressive move for a man so big — one that got some cheers from the crowd — but he admits he did wrench his back a bit.
That prompted a trip to the bench, where student trainer Derrick Bark applied some IcyHot (liniment) to his lower back,. Soon he was back in the game.
Although she had heard about the move from other people, Laura said she and her daughter had missed it.
She didn’t seem to concerned.
Her son had given her plenty birthday surprises as it was.