Drew struggled through his 17 starts as North Carolina’s floor general this season, averaging 4.6 points on 37.1 percent shooting (21.4 percent on 3-pointers) and a 3.7-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio. Following UNC’s 20-point loss at Georgia Tech on Jan. 16, head coach Roy Williams inserted Kendall Marshall into the starting lineup at point guard and relegated Drew to the bench.
There was legitimate concern that the move would damage the junior’s confidence, but Drew flourished in his new role, posting a 19-to-4 assist-to-turnover ratio while knocking down roughly 44 percent of his field goal attempts. On Tuesday night, Drew delivered a 9:1 assist-error mark in North Carolina’s 106-74 blowout victory at Boston College.
The Tar Heels did not practice on Wednesday due to a late arrival back into Chapel Hill that morning. Practice resumed on Thursday afternoon, and by all accounts, everything seemed normal.
And then Drew was gone.
Williams told reporters on Friday afternoon that he had received a message to call Larry Drew, Sr., the current Atlanta Hawks head coach and Drew’s father.
“I called Big Larry a little bit after 9am, and at that point, he informed me that Larry was leaving,” Williams said. “We had a long discussion – most of which should be kept private – and basically there was no arbitrating, there was no trying to see if we could rectify anything. It was that was the decision that was made. He thought it was in Larry’s best interest.”
No one saw this coming. Not Williams and certainly not Drew’s teammates.
Marshall admitted to reporters that he was upset to learn the news from Facebook instead of from Drew himself, adding, “It’s a decision he made – I wish him the best of luck in all of his decisions and where he ends up going from here.”
Marshall also expressed shock in the timing of Drew’s decision.
“If it was up to me and I’m sure 99 percent of the people in the world, we would have liked to have seen him wait until the end of the season,” Marshall said. “But Larry’s a grown man. He makes his own choices.”
North Carolina’s press release announcing the departure included quotes from Williams and the Drew camp that suggested the move was a family decision, but the eighth-year UNC head coach refused to be drawn into a discussion about parents’ roles and how that might affect his recruiting philosophy going forward.
Even so, it’s hard not to focus on the fact that four of Williams’s six California recruits while at UNC – Alex Stepheson, Travis Wear, David Wear and Drew – all left the program with family playing a significant role.
Larry, Sr., joins David Wear, Sr., as parents that broke the news of their children’s departure from UNC to Williams, who had still not talked to Drew II as of 2:15pm on Friday.
When asked if it was disappointing that he heard the news from a parent instead of the player, Williams responded: “I’m disappointed in the fact that he’s leaving – that’s the biggest disappointment. Everybody has different feelings and different ideas, but… That’s probably best to leave it there.”
Williams also had discussions with Drew I and Drew II following rumors last season suggesting the then-sophomore was considering a transfer back home. But while Drew denounced those rumors during and after the season, sources close to the situation indicated that some of his teammates didn’t expect him to return to Chapel Hill this season.
The UNC staff was also aware that Drew might leave after last season, as they were contacting the remaining uncommitted high school point guards in the senior class as an insurance policy. Furthermore, assistant coach Steve Robinson missed the NIT opening-round game against William & Mary to scout junior college prospects.
This season, Drew's parents were not happy with their son's current role and diminished playing time, according to sources close to the situation. But the vocal dissatisfaction and involvement goes back much further.
Sources confirmed to Inside Carolina that Sharon Drew, Larry’s mother, called the basketball office irate back in 2009 upon hearing news that Williams had a conversation with then high school senior John Wall right before the Final Four.
Mrs. Drew made news again last May. The L.A. Times reported that Landon Drew, Larry’s younger brother, was kicked off the Woodland Hills Taft High School basketball team due to Mrs. Drew’s involvement.
Taft principal Sharon Thomas told the Times a day later that the younger Drew could not be removed from the team for “adult behavior.”
"Mrs. Drew and [Taft head coach] Derrick [Taylor] need to work it out as adults. It's the most ridiculous thing," Thomas told the paper.
For his part, Drew has received criticism over the past two summers for returning to California to work on his game instead of staying in Chapel Hill to play pickup ball with his teammates. And that likely highlights the prevailing reason behind Drew’s decision to leave UNC – while his body may have been in North Carolina, it was as if his mind was always in California.
Multiple sources indicate that the knock on Drew from those close to the team is not that he was a bad teammate or that he maliciously undermined team chemistry, but rather that he wasn't fully invested. He was more of an absentee teammate than a bad teammate.
Sources also claim that the coaching staff expressed disappointment behind the scenes about Drew's commitment level - the lack of a gym rat's mentality to go the extra mile on his own time.
The absurdity of the situation is that by leaving the program in February, Drew loses the spring semester of eligibility and will have only one season of eligibility remaining. A transfer just four weeks ago would have allowed the junior time to find a new school and provided an opportunity to potentially play in two more NCAA Tournaments.
As it stands now, Drew will not be eligible to play Division I ball again until the ‘12-13 season after sitting out next year as specified by NCAA bylaws.