University of Missouri

Missouri has watched a lot of Caleb Love’s games lately. Why does MU want him so bad?

Caleb Love is a 2020 Missouri recruit that can play both guard spots and is a menace on defense. He continues to become a national prospect.
Caleb Love is a 2020 Missouri recruit that can play both guard spots and is a menace on defense. He continues to become a national prospect. Alex Schiffer

Even when Caleb Love was a freshman, Christian Brothers College High School coach Justin Tatum had no problem telling coaches and reporters to keep an eye on the guard.

The father of NBA star Jayson Tatum, the elder Tatum knew talent when he saw it after coaching the likes of former MU wing Jordan Barnett and NBA guard Pat McCaw.

Three years later, Justin Tatum looks like a genius. Love is a four-star recruit and top-40 player nationally in his class.s coming off a breakout summer that saw him go from mid-major recruit to being courted by blue-blood programs.

You can imagine how badly MU coach Cuonzo Martin wants to keep the St. Louis resident from leaving the state.

Martin and assistant coach Chris Hollender have been regulars at Love’s games lately, along with coaches from Virginia, Texas, Louisville and North Carolina.

“They’re knocking down the door,” Tatum told The Star of the college coaches coming to watch Love.

What coaches see in Love is two-fold: He has the frame (6 feet, 3 inches, 170 pounds) of a college guard, and he fits the model of positionless basketball that programs across the country are adopting.

Love originally came up as a point guard, and it’s still his primary position. But as he saw the likes of Villanova in college and Golden State in the NBA win multiple titles by spacing the floor with multiple shooters who can play and guard multiple spots, he followed the game’s lead.

“Me being versatile has come with the territory,” Love told The Star.

Besides playing point guard, Love can play shooting guard without much trouble and can defend up to four positions. Tatum has been playing Love at both guard and forward spots this season because of Love’s diversity.

While positionless basketball has only become a trend in the past few seasons, Tatum said Love’s recruitment would be just as hot if he was coming up five years ago. The only difference is that there would have been more emphasis on him as a point guard rather than a Swiss Army Knife.

“There would be more focus on him playing the 1 than both,” Tatum said.

Going into last summer, Love had offers from the likes of Missouri, Xavier, DePaul, Illinois as well as some mid-major schools. But he made the most of the summer season, which vaunted him onto the radar of the blue bloods.

Love played so well on Bradley Beal Elite’s under-16 team to get promoted onto the under-17 team right before the Las Vegas showcases started in mid-July. The Cadets’ star player held his own against better competition and got invited to Team USA’s mini-camp in Colorado, where he did more of the same.

“Once he got a chance to play (under-17) down in Vegas he took it as a challenge,” Tatum said. “Once he got comfortable he was off and running.”

Soon after, Tatum’s phone was ringing off the hook from callers such as Virginia coach Tony Bennett, Indiana’s Archie Miller and Michigan’s John Beilein.

Love has since visited Michigan and Indiana on unofficial visits. But a school that has constantly stayed in the picture during Love’s national rise is Martin’s Tigers.

CBC played at Missouri’s elite camp in June, and Love had the Tigers’ entire coaching staff glued to his games. After a strong performance in one of them, Love held court with Martin and his assistants as they raved about the big strides he’s made in his development since they had last seen him.

Love works out with Barnett when he’s in town and was impressed with how Martin transformed Barnett’s game in the one year he had Barnett.

“It’s a great deal,” Love said of Missouri. “They really show a lot of love. They always keep in contact. The relationship is there.”

The Cadet’s season is off to a slow start, as Tatum scheduled more of a national schedule for his team. CBC is 6-4 and is fresh off a loss to Belleville West, which features Ohio State signee E.J. Liddell.

Love said the team is just trying to put multiple wins together after having more of a back and forth start.

Tatum has been impressed with Love this season but wants to see more of the x-factor gene come out, where Love’s lust to win forces him into playing his best basketball.

“I expect him to have more of the will and desire to win,” Tatum said. “It’s right there. I wish he had more of it, but it’s coming.”

After the way his last prediction turned out, who is going to bet against him on this one?

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.