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I consider myself a big "freedom of movement" guy. I don't like the NBA's age-minimum rule because it denies players an opportunity to meet the market's demand. I never criticize a coach for bolting for a more lucrative job or an underclassman who turns professional. I don't like the National Letter of Intent because it binds a recruit to a school even in the event of a coaching change, and I don't like the fact that schools have the option of denying a release to a player who wants to transfer.
I cannot, however, support Larry Drew II's sudden decision to leave North Carolina last Friday. The facts behind his decision and the manner in which it was carried out are deplorable. Drew didn't just quit on Roy Williams. He quit on his teammates at the most important time of the season. He did so without letting on that it was coming or informing them what he had done. Worst of all, he left it to his father to deliver the news to Williams via a phone call on Friday morning.
To say that Williams and the players were surprised is a mass understatement. Yes, Drew, a 6-foot-2 junior point guard, had lost his starting point guard to freshman Kendall Marshall on Jan. 18, right after the Heels had been blitzed by 20 points at Georgia Tech. But in the four games in which Drew came off the bench he played some of his best basketball. Not coincidentally, North Carolina won all four games. During that stretch Drew had a total of 19 assists to just four turnovers, and Williams twice paid him the ultimate compliment by naming him the team's defensive player of the game. What's more, even though Drew was coming off the bench, his minutes had not declined all that much. He averaged 19.3 minutes to Marshall's 21.3.
Drew had by far his best game of the season last Tuesday, when he had nine assists and one turnover in 19 minutes during North Carolina's 106-74 win at Boston College. The team was off on Wednesday, and from what I'm told Drew had an excellent practice on Thursday. He even showed up early for the weight room session, which has not been his habit. Drew has never been a come-early, leave-late kind of guy. For a long time the feeling around him has been that he was a little spoiled having grown up the son of an ex-NBA player. Drew's father, Larry, played nine years in the league and is currently the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. (Larry Sr. declined my request for comment through the Hawks.)
Sometime late Thursday night, Drew went back to the North Carolina locker room to pack up some belongings. By morning he was gone. He left without saying a word to the coaches or players -- including his roommate, Justin Watts, who was supposedly his best friend on the team. The fact that he left it to his father to deliver the news to Williams was the ultimate cowardly act. It does not speak well of the player, but frankly it also does not speak well of his parents. Instead of doing the dirty work for him, Larry Sr. should have told his son, "If you want to leave, you go into that man's office and tell him yourself, to his face." It would have been the honorable thing to do.
Much has been made about the role that Larry Sr. might have had in his son's decision, but Drew's mother, Sharon, is a far greater problem. Sharon is the one who would call the coaches to complain about how many minutes her son was playing or how many shots he was getting. The news site Inside Carolina reported that in 2009 Sharon called the basketball office irate after she heard Williams spoke with John Wall, who was then a high school senior, about coming to play in Chapel Hill. Sharon was the one who would protest how many tickets she was getting to games, and where her seats were. She is the one whose meddlesome tactics led the coach at Drew's former high school to dismiss his younger brother, Landon, from the team in the spring of 2010. The coach, Derrick Taylor, told the L.A. Times, "I informed [Landon] and his mother he could no longer be on the team. He's a great kid, but the circumstances are too unbearable." The school's principal later instructed Taylor to reinstate the player, saying "Landon can't be punished for adult behavior."
There is a strong argument to be made that Drew's departure is a classic case of addition by subtraction. In North Carolina's first game without him, Marshall played 36 minutes and had 16 assists to just three turnovers in a 20-point thrashing of Florida State. But that's not the point. Ironically, as selfish as Drew's actions have been, they are also self-defeating. Though his father told the Raleigh News and Observer last week that "this was a decision that was made long before this season even started," Larry's decision to wait until after the start of the spring semester means that he only has one year of eligibility remaining. If he had transferred during the semester break, he would have retained the option of becoming eligible in midseason next year.
What options will Larry Drew have moving forward? Hard to say. His talent has often been called into question -- with good reason, I might add -- but now he has raised troubling issues about his character. If you're a coach and you need a point guard, are you going to take someone who might quit when the going gets tough? Is this guy really good enough to make it worth all this trouble?