St. Louisan Caleb Love is at last getting his opportunity to play in a Final Four and compete for a championship.
The former CBC basketball star has been tremendous throughout the NCAA Tournament in helping lead North Carolina to the East Regional championship and a berth in the Final Four.
The Tar Heels will meet longtime rival Duke in a national semifinal game at the Superdome in New Orleans following the Kansas-Villanova contest.
For Love, he will get the chance participate in a Final Four that was denied to him two years ago at the end of his stellar high school career with the Cadets.
I take you back to March 14, 2020, at Francis Howell Central when Love and his Cadet teammates defeated Francis Howell 62-53 in the quarterfinals of the Class 6 state tournament. Love scored 23 points to lead CBC, including a pair of clutch jumpers down the stretch with the game in the balance.
Normally, a state quarterfinal game of that magnitude would attract a packed gym of rabid basketball fans. But this was no ordinary day. There were less than 150 people in the gym. With the COVID-19 pandemic first raging across the country, events were being cancelled, including high school activities. And those that still went on were held in front of small gatherings, like the one in St. Charles on that night.
I had just come back from New York early because the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament had been cancelled. But I did get out to Francis Howell Central two days later because I wanted to see Love at least one more time in high school He delivered one more virtuoso performance to get the Cadets back to the Final Four. The Cadets advanced to the state championship game the previous season and were defeated by Columbia Rock Bridge in a close game.
Caleb was looking forward to getting back to Springfield to close out his career with a state championship. However, it was becoming clear that he would not have that opportunity. It became official a few days later when the Final Four was officially cancelled.
I spoke with him after the quarterfinal game, and you could see the disappointment on his face. As excited as he was, it was starting to sink in that he had probably played his last high school game and that he would not get the opportunity conclude his dream season the way he wanted to. No state championship; No McDonald’s All-American Game. It was over, just like that. I felt crushed for the young man and all the other kids who were in that same position on March 14, 2020.
Here we are two years later, and Caleb Love is getting to go to the Final Four and the stage could not be bigger. He is going to play in what may be the most anticipated Final Four game in recent memory. The North Carolina-Duke rivalry is the biggest in college basketball, yet it will be the first time that these two storied programs have played in the NCAA Tournament. And with the retirement of legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski looming, it is a game that everyone will be tuning in to.
It was Love who had a big hand in making sure the Tar Heels are headed to the Big Easy. He is currently averaging 18 points a game in the tournament, which is up three points from his regular season average. He started off the tournament with a bang as he scored 23 points and made six 3-pointers in the Tar Heels’ 95-63 victory over Marquette.
As good as that performance was, it his Caleb’s epic 30-point performance against UCLA in the regional semifinals that will etch his name into Carolina folklore. After a tough-shooting first half, Love changed his shoes at halftime, then proceeded to score 27 points in the second half to lead the Tar Heels to a 73-66 victory over the Bruins.
It was Love’s back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minutes of play that turned a 64-61 deficit into a 67-64 lead that the Tar Heels would not relinquish. He followed up with 14 points in the Tar Heels’ victory over St. Peter’s in the regional final.
Welcome back to the Final Four Caleb Love. Good things come to those who wait.