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Caleb Love will happily return to Arizona if NBA dreams don’t materialize in Chicago

CHICAGO — A handful of NBA Draft prospects slipped their names into the transfer portal before the May 1 deadline to keep their potential options opens.

Arizona star Caleb Love was not one of ’em. Nor was he one of the players who earned an invite to this week’s 2024 NBA Draft Combine. 

Love competed in the G League Elite Camp on Saturday and Sunday and turned in a decent showing — Love hit a pair of triples and flushed an impressive transition dunk in his first scrimmage to go along with four assists and just one turnover, while Game 2 was a bit rockier (eight points, two assists, three turnovers), but Love did swipe three steals — but did not earn a call-up to the combine, which was on the line for top performers. Love will stay in the Windy City this week and could earn a call-up to Wednesday’s scrimmages if the NBA needs extra bodies (stay tuned). 

The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year noted that he “never” considered dipping into the portal for the second year in a row. If he withdraws his name from the 2024 NBA Draft before the May 29 deadline, he’ll head back to Tucson. 

“This week will tell me a lot,” Love told CBS Sports on Saturday. “Play the best I can and give as much effort as I can and show in the interviews the person that I am off the court. After this week, I’ll have an understanding of where I want to go with it.”

The NBA did not deem Love to be one of the top 78 prospects in this draft class. If one of those 78 players decides to shut things down after Tuesday’s team interviews, and if that player is a guard, then Love could get a chance to compete this week in scrimmages. There, he’d have an opportunity to improve his draft standing. 

Love is fresh off the most efficient offensive season of his career. Love shot a shade under 60% at the rim at Arizona, by far the best of his four-year collegiate career. Love never topped 50% at the rim during his first three seasons at UNC. He expanded his effectiveness in pick-and-rolls, lowered his turnover rate, shot 40% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and was a piece of Arizona’s top-10 defense. Love’s 5-for-18 shooting performance in Arizona’s 77-72 loss to Clemson in the Sweet 16 sticks out like a sore thumb, but it shouldn’t dissuade some of the progress Love showed.

“Coach (Tommy) Lloyd helped me expand my game and grow my game,” Love said. “Playing with my teammates, they made it so much fun. It was a great overall year. I definitely grew in areas that I didn’t at UNC, so I’m grateful for Arizona and that whole community.”

Love’s current focus is on the NBA Draft, but he’s keeping an eye on the roster Arizona has put together. He has a spot, regardless. But ahead of a move to the Big 12, Arizona has loaded up in the portal. Oakland’s Trey Townsend and Tennessee’s Tobe Awaka are huge reinforcements for an Arizona frontcourt that lost Oumar Ballo (to the portal) and Keshad Johnson (exhausted eligibility). Arizona also reeled in intriguing Campbell transfer Anthony Dell’Orso to add to Jaden Bradley and KJ Lewis in the backcourt. Oh, and Arizona has a glitzy recruiting class jetting to Tucson

Tommy Lloyd has been working,” Love said with a laugh. “I’m definitely excited for them and the things they’ve been putting together. I knew he was going to go into the portal and get some great complementary guys. Those are some big pieces for Arizona so I’m excited for them, regardless of the direction I go.”

Arizona has a good nucleus, but it could elevate into a new tier if its All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year runs it back. Of course, the financial side looms over all of this. Returning to Arizona could provide Love with an NIL payday far exceeding what an elusive two-way deal would garner. 

“I never really was the type to go back for money,” Love said. “I didn’t transfer to go get more money. I wanted the best situation for me and I wanted to be on a good team that had aspirations to win on the highest level and winning a national championship. That went into my decision to go to Arizona and if I chose to go back, it wouldn’t be for the money. It would be to expand my game and elevate my game and compete for a national championship.”

MORE: Notes on Love and several other big-name college basketball players from the G League Elite Camp in Chicago. 

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