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Drew's Departure Leaves Tar Heels Thin at the Point
By Ken Davis
The online message boards focusing on North Carolina basketball became very active Friday when news broke that point guard Larry Drew had walked away from the Tar Heels without explanation.
“Quitter. Loser. Crybaby.”
Strong words were used to characterize Drew. Let’s hope Drew gave this decision a lot of thought, because no matter what he has been through — and it’s only right to mention he unfairly shouldered a lot of blame the last two seasons — the way he left Chapel Hill will always be viewed as a defining moment in his life. It’s the way he did it that angered people. He walked away from his college team 18 days after losing his starting job. And he did it at a time when Carolina was entering the toughest stretch of its schedule.
More important, he didn’t bother to personally tell coach Roy Williams or his teammates. Guard Justin Watts was Drew’s roommate and he had no idea Drew was planning to leave. Williams found out Friday morning when he returned a call to Drew’s father, Larry Sr., the coach of the Atlanta Hawks.
That’s not only bizarre and awkward. It’s wrong. The way the Drew family handled this situation was more than insulting to Williams, even though the North Carolina coach has gone out of his way not to publicly admonish his former player.
“We had a long discussion, most of which should be kept private,” Williams said of his conversation with Larry, Sr. “Basically there was no arbitrating, no trying to see if we could rectify anything.
“I was shocked. I was disappointed.”
As the surprise surrounding Drew’s decision started to wear off, there were basically two conclusions for North Carolina fans to consider. One would leave them wondering how much Drew’s departure would hurt, at a time when the Tar Heels seemed to be pulling their season together. The other possibility is that North Carolina might become a better team, a more close-knit bunch without an unhappy teammate in the locker room.
Freshman Kendall Marshall at least provided some temporary diversion on Sunday. Marshall, the player who took Drew’s starting job, scored nine points and had 16 assists to lead the Tar Heels past Florida State, 89-69. A Tar Heel player hadn’t had that many assists since Raymond Felton’s 18 against George Mason in December 2003.
“I won’t say it was a statement because we had a lot of great players play great tonight,” Marshall told reporters. “But as a point guard of this team, I do sort of feel like the leader and I have to lead by example.”
It’s a tough spot for Marshall. Not as tough as the one Drew faced when he tried to replace Ty Lawson, but still difficult. Wednesday night the Tar Heels face Duke, and this one is in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Cameron Crazies will be ready and waiting for North Carolina’s new floor leader.
Drew’s departure puts pressure on Marshall and also on Dexter Strickland, who will see time at both guard spots. That’s the extent of Carolina’s depth at point guard. Williams will have to adjust his rotation again, but the initial response from the Tar Heels indicated they are moving on — without Drew.
Duke is 8-1 in the ACC. North Carolina is 7-1 and has won five straight since that embarrassing 78-58 loss at Georgia Tech. Just when you thought the Duke-UNC rivalry was cooling off, a soap opera breaks out.
These developments will make things very interesting again. Marshall now has a starring role and many eyes will be focused on him. Do you think Larry Drew, wherever he is, will be watching on TV?
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is now doubling as Ben Hansbrough’s publicist, pushing his player for Big East and National Player of the Year honors. Hey, you can’t blame Brey. Hansbrough comes from quality award stock. His brother Tyler, who starred at North Carolina a few years back, grabbed a few trophies in his time. “I mean, we are in the top 10, and he has driven us into that position and we are in the hunt for the league title. … Some people say, ‘Let’s see what he does next game.’ Well he did it again.” Brey was talking about Hansbrough’s 25 points, six rebounds, five assists and one steal in a 76-69 win over Rutgers. Prior to that game, against DePaul, Hansbrough had 24 points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal. That’s a nice week of work.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall. See above. “We hadn’t seen him play,” Florida State’s Chris Singleton said of Marshall. “We underestimated him, and he showed us what he’s capable of doing.”
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Tuesday, Feb. 8
Indiana at Purdue
The Hoosiers may be last in the Big Ten but they’ve gone 2-2 in their last four games and the two losses came by a total of two points. Purdue has lost two of its last three.
Tennessee at Kentucky
Bruce Pearl returns to the bench for SEC action. Will that be good or bad for the Vols? Kentucky will just be glad to be back home after losing at Ole Miss and at Florida last week.
Wednesday, Feb. 9
Georgetown at Syracuse
Austin Freeman and Rick Jackson each have found their groove. And these two teams have busted out of their Big East slumps. The Carrier Dome fans can’t wait for the Hoyas to visit.
Louisville at Notre Dame
Last week Louisville occupied second place in the Big East. This week is Notre Dame’s turn. Mike Brey’s team has won five straight.
North Carolina at Duke
Hate to tell Austin Rivers this, but North Carolina vs. Duke is a rivalry. Coach K must love the extra pressure from one of his signees, who’s still in high school.
Texas A&M at Colorado
Colorado coach Tad Boyle and Aggies coach Mark Turgeon are old buddies from the Kansas basketball program. But this will be the only time they face off before the Buffs head to the Pac 10.
Thursday, Feb. 10
Connecticut at St. John’s
UConn is 6-4 in the Big East. St. John’s is 5-5. Every game counts in the Big East.
Alabama at Vanderbilt
Bama has been the surprise of the SEC, but the trip to Memorial Gym will be very tough. Vanderbilt hasn’t lost to Alabama in Nashville since 1990.
Illinois at Minnesota
Illinois dropped out of the rankings after a 71-70 loss to Northwestern. Minnesota has lost three in a row.
Friday, Feb. 11
Yale at Harvard
Friday nights are for sorting out the Ivy League standings.
Saturday, Feb. 12
Syracuse at Louisville
Choose your defensive weapon. Syracuse likes the 2-3 zone. Louisville coach Rick Pitino will press and use the matchup zone. The team that figures out how to score wins.
Ohio State at Wisconsin
This might be the biggest obstacle between Ohio State and an unbeaten regular season. There’s no doubt the Badgers will be bringing their A game.
Pittsburgh at Villanova
It’s still one of the best rivalries in the Big East. Pitt will be shorthanded but the Panthers won’t be short of energy.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
The Wildcats and Commodores begin the week with identical records. This is the first of two meetings before the end of the regular season, so it will carry a lot of weight in the SEC.
Sunday, Feb. 13
Arizona at Arizona State
Sean Miller is getting it done at Arizona. First place vs. last place in the Pac-10. But, hey, it’s still a rivalry game.
Purdue at Illinois
Illinois has lost five times since Jan. 11. With two games against ranked opponents this week, the season might be in the balance for the Illini.
THEY SAID IT
“The more you play this game, you start to understand this is a game of runs. Tech made a good run, coach called a timeout to get us settled down and we came out and responded real good.” — Texas guard J’Covan Brown, after the Longhorns defeated Texas Tech 76-60.
“What people don’t realize is he don’t want to pass the ball. He don’t want to get no assists. He wants to shoot the ball every single time. If you think he wants to pass it, then you’re wrong.” — UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis, speaking his mind on BYU star Jimmer Fredette, before a 78-64 loss to the Cougars.
“At this point, it doesn’t matter what he says. I was just worried about getting the victory.” — Fredette, after scoring 29 points (and adding seven assists) against UNLV and becoming the Mountain West Conference’s career scoring leader.
“It feels good. It’s a big-time win. These are the kind of games you dream about as a child.” — Florida’s Chandler Parsons, after the Gators defeated Kentucky 70-68 Saturday.
“Last time in Lincoln, and I love playing here. You won’t be coming back, so it’s good to get a last win here.” — Kansas guard Brady Morningstar, who scored 19 points and helped the Jayhawks to an 86-66 victory over Nebraska in the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The Cornhuskers head to the Big Ten next season.
“I’m not going to talk about any calls like that. I said something to the refs. But I very rarely … I think I’ve gotten, you know … I don’t get into that. It’s not going to change. It’s over.” — Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, who became so enraged after a call during a loss to Xavier that he pounded his hand on the scorer’s table and damaged a laptop computer.
Gibbs Out at Pitt
Good teams often face difficult challenges during the course of a season, and Pittsburgh will be tested the next couple of weeks with junior point guard Ashton Gibbs sidelined by a MCL injury. Gibbs scored 25 points against Cincinnati Saturday, but the injury wasn’t diagnosed until the following day. The timing of an injury is never good, especially in the Big East. But Pitt goes to West Virginia and Villanova this week. Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker may form the best starting backcourt duo in the country. Wanamaker is so versatile that he can handle the point at times. Junior Travon Woodall will have his minutes increased and will likely start at the point. Gilbert Brown will have to step up his game as well. You can’t replace the 16.3 points, 3.1 assists, and Gibbs’ shooting (46.3 from three, 89.7 from the line), but Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is a master at making adjustments. And you can be sure Dixon will let Gibbs get the rest he needs to come back at 100 percent.
College coaches and players continue to struggle with acts of ill-advised social media postings. Last Thursday, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury banned his team from using Twitter. That came after Ravern Johnson was suspended from Saturday’s game against LSU because of “inappropriate tweets” following a loss to Alabama on Wednesday. Johnson was critical of his offensive role in the game, and then his account was deleted. Players need to understand they can’t embarrass their coach or their team with inappropriate tweets. Coaches need to address these issues at the start of the season, and establish what is OK and what isn’t. There was nothing wrong with penalizing Johnson. A team-wide ban of Twitter in reaction to one player’s post isn’t fair.
Anyone who has watched Cincinnati play knows the importance of power forward Yancy Gates. The 6-9 junior was suspended indefinitely by coach Mick Cronin, and the Bearcats lost to Pitt 71-59 Saturday. Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the suspension was the result of an attitude issue demonstrated in practice last week. “We don’t have a lot of rules,” Cronin told The News Record, the Cincinnati student paper. “Play hard, be a good guy, be committed to the team [and] be coachable. It’s really not negotiable. I believe the squeaky wheel should not get the oil.”
Morehead State is 17-8 overall and 9-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference. You just hope the Eagles can work their way into the NCAA Tournament field, one way or the other. Why? Because it is always nice to see a talented individual such as Kenneth Faried command the national stage — even if just for one game. The 6-8 senior from Newark, N.J., leads the nation in rebounding with an average of 14.2 per game. Thursday against Jacksonville State, Faried had 21 points and 20 rebounds. Against Tennessee State, just eight days prior, he had 23 points and 23 rebounds. Faried has had five 20-20 games in his career and has become just the fifth player since 1975 to reach 1,500 rebounds in his career. He’s closing in on Tim Duncan, whose 1,570 rebounds are the most since 1973.
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken's web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).