(WFRV-TV) - The Green Bay Phoenix have the luxury of a pair of point guards who impact the game in plenty of ways. Everyone knows junior Keifer Sykes, the the Horizon League's second leading scorer and likely Horizon League Player of the Year.
But even Sykes will tell you not to overlook what sophomore Carrington Love brings to the court.
"Energy, toughness, play-making ability, a bunch of things," says Sykes. "Three-point shooting that we need from this team. He's been great in the lineup all year. He's improved a bunch over the summer from last year to this year. He knew his role would improve and I think he embraced that this summer. The results have spilled onto the court."
The 6'1" sophomore has started only 12 of 29 games for a GB team that likes to play big, yet at 7.8 points per game,Love finished the regular season as Green Bay's 4th leading scoring after tacking on 40 more field goals and 30 more three's than he had as a freshman.
"He's confident," head coach Brian Wardle said about the progress in Love from his first year to his second. "His one bad play doesn't lead to two or three. I think you see that a lot with freshman. He makes a mistake and bounces right back and makes a play. I think that's maturity, that's experience."
But where Love makes his presence felt the most is on the defensive end where he's second on the team in steals.
"I've always been a defensive stopper in my playing career," said Love who also averaged more than 18 points a game as a high school senior at Milwaukee Piux IV. "It's an advantage to me to be able to stop players on the defensive end, and if they need me to contribute on offense to be there on offense also."
Love's ability to often lock down the opposition's best scorer has helped the Phoenix rank 11th in the nation in field goal percentage defense.
"He's a very good defender," added Wardle. "There's not many young men that don't take plays off defensively. I'd be shocked if you could show me a play Carrington Love took a play off defensively. He just does not. He's just constant, when we recruited him he was a high energy guy."
So what motivates Carrington Love to play that way? He says three things: a love for the game of basketball, his passion for hard work, and trying to make his dad proud every day.
"I was three years old when my father was murdered," Love told Local 5 in a one-on-one interview last week.
That devastating loss is something the Milwaukee native has to live with every day.
"Over the years it's always been the tough part when coach says we're having a player/parent meeting and just my mom is coming, but as I got older everything happens for a reason," said Love.
The youngest of three siblings, Carrington and his family had to carry on the best they could.
"My brother was forced to grow up early," added Love. "He was kind of like a big brother, father figure for me. That was my role model growing up. But my mom being a single mom having to work two jobs, it was pretty tough for her. Butt she definitely handled her business, knew what she had to do, and raised the guy I am today."
Love says he and Sykes became fast friends in the Phoenix back-court in part because of similar upbringings. Sykes is the youngest of 9 kids, and he lost his father to a heart attack after his freshman year.
"We share so much on and off the court both being city kids and coming from similar home situations," said Love. "He's like a big brother to me and for him to be able to help me on and off court is so helpful. That's why I love that guy."
As Love and UWGB prepare for the conference tournament, the second year player can take a look back and realize how lucky he is to be living out his dream of playing D-1 college basketball..
"Not everyone from where I come from gets opportunities like this so I definitely cherish it, embrace it, and try to make the most of what I can."
That explains why you see Love going all out all of the time and refusing to take even a single a play off. That's him living in the moment. And when he needs a little extra motivation, he thinks of the man he's trying to impress, the father he hardly got to know.
"It definitely pushes me to know I want to do my best and to know he's proud of me," said Love. "Even though he can't tell me, but just him looking down and hoping that I did enough to make him proud of me."
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