Celebrating UCLA Senior Larry Drew IIPosted by AMurawa on March 1st, 2013
It was February 4, 2011. The North Carolina Tar Heels were sitting at 16-5 for the year and 6-1 in conference play. They were just days removed from a 32-point win over Boston College during which former starting point guard Larry Drew II handed out nine assists in just 19 minutes of action off the bench. And yet, on that day, Drew announced via a written statement that he would be leaving the North Carolina program and transferring elsewhere to complete his eligibility. The common cry heard around the land was that Drew had quit on his team because he had lost his starting job to freshman Kendall Marshall. Criticisms around the Chapel Hill area were certainly even more pointed, and as the Tar Heels proceeded to win 13 of their next 16 games, eventually losing in the Elite Eight to Kentucky, Drew, a former McDonald’s All-American, was nearly written off as an afterthought in college basketball circles.
Fast forward a year and nine months. UCLA is opening a newly remodeled Pauley Pavilion with one of the nation’s best freshman classes, hoping to rebound from a mediocre season. With head coach Ben Howland’s job in jeopardy in the face of demanding Bruins fans, who is it that he relies on to lead his young club? Yup, Larry Drew II, albeit it an older, wiser and more mature Larry Drew II. North Carolina fans aren’t going to want to hear this, and there are plenty around the country who will still pick apart the holes in the senior’s game, but as UCLA gets ready to celebrate the Senior Night of their for-one-year-only point guard, you better believe the Bruins wouldn’t even have the record they currently have sans Drew’s presence.
Throw out the obvious things like Drew’s buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper against Washington or his 3.66-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio on the year (at one point over a six-game home-stand, Drew compiled 54 assists against just seven turnovers); Drew’s main gifts to his UCLA squad have been his veteran leadership, his unflappable demeanor and – get this – his refusal to quit. Early in the year, while Kyle Anderson was getting used to playing off of the ball for the first time in his life, while Shabazz Muhammad was first ineligible and then unfit, and while returnees who had spent time previously under Howland’s more deliberate offensive pacings, it was Drew who got the team out and running and it was he who found regularly found guys like Jordan Adams and the Wear twins in spots to knock down open looks. And as Muhammad and Anderson slowly but surely built to their potential, it was Drew there initiating the offense. Sure, most of the country looked at the box scores and saw a guy missing field goal attempts on his way to a six-point scoring average in the non-conference, but his steady presence as the team’s floor general was undeniable.
And, even as teams almost universally decided the best course of action was to lay off of Drew and make him beat you with his own shot, he even tightened up that portion of his game, to the point that he has now knocked down ten of his last 15 three-point attempts over the last five games while averaging 11.7 points per game. While he had done a great job distributing to more natural scorers, his team needed him to take on more of a scoring load to keep the defense honest, so he found a way to get it done.
But by far his best attribute for this team has been his leadership, his knowledge gleaned from a couple times around the block and a trip through the media ringer. Drew took advantage of his transfer year off to get used to his new home, learns the demands of his new coach and rebuild his psyche so that he could make the most of his time as that increasingly rare and cherished thing in college basketball – a senior point guard. As controversy swirled around the team following their infamous early season loss to Cal Poly and as rumors surfaced that Howland’s head may have been on the chopping block prior to the Missouri game, Drew was a steady presence. At times when emotions amongst the younger guys threatened to swirl out of control – for instance this past Sunday when things got chippy in the second half against USC – it was Drew ready to calm his guys down and bring them back into focus. Just as you would want and expect any senior point guard to do, Drew has become an extension of his coach on the court.
He’s still far from perfect, there are certainly still holes in his game, and he has certainly expressed some regret over the way he handled his departure from North Carolina, but Larry Drew II is a perfect example of why we watch college basketball and why we love seniors. This is a guy who, over the course of his career, has grown from a clearly flawed player and human, to a slightly less flawed player and human – a noble endeavor indeed. And all that any of us can shoot for.