UCLA

UCLA: Sharp at point, Drew etches role

Guard, once a target of Cats, finds his form after returning home
2013-03-02T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:33:09Z UCLA: Sharp at point, Drew etches rolePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

LOS ANGELES - The day after Larry Drew II and Brandon Jennings played in the 2007 Cactus Classic at McKale Center, they each met with Lute Olson.

The Arizona Wildcats coach - who had, within a month, dismissed longtime assistant Jim Rosborough and hired Kevin O'Neill - had to choose between the two high school point guards.

"He told me straight up, basically, 'I want both of you guys,'" Drew said. " 'You're great point guards in my opinion. And whoever commits first.'"

That wasn't the first time that year Drew heard the ultimatum. He was offered a scholarship to UCLA, but only if he committed within a week.

In both cases, Drew waited.

"Ultimately, I wanted to stay as close to home as possible, so I was kinda leaning toward Arizona anyway," Drew said this week, as his UCLA Bruins were preparing for today's game against the Wildcats.

"Brandon, that night, goes and commits."

The rival guards "didn't really speak back then," Drew said. He heard the news the next day, shooting around at his high school, Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft.

"Then he doesn't even go," Drew said. "So it was like, 'Man, whatever."

By the time Jennings, now an NBA star, failed to gain admission to the UA, Drew had committed to play point guard at North Carolina.

The Tar Heels "had the position wide open," Drew said, so he rebuffed offers to share time elsewhere.

He stayed in Chapel Hill, N.C., for 2 1/2 seasons before famously quitting the team, midseason, in February 2011.

Drew had been losing playing time to Kendall Marshall, later a Phoenix Suns lottery pick, and walked off, earning nationwide criticism.

"I'd like to think everything happens for a reason," Drew said. "It's just funny how everything works out, looking back in retrospect.

"I never thought I'd be back here."

Today, Drew will play his final home game for UCLA, to which he transferred, redshirted last season and, as a senior this year, has been the only Bruin to start every game.

"I really believe we would have got him if, in retrospect, we would have been patient," UCLA coach Ben Howland said Friday. "We paid for those sins over the previous years.

"Him coming back home … it's been really special.

"It's been a sense of happiness for him to be back home in front of family and friends."

After the Bruins' 79-74 overtime win against Arizona State on Wednesday, Drew - who turns 23 on Tuesday and will finish his final academic quarter later this month - wrote a paper about Machiavelli's "The Prince."

Consider this the ends justifying the means, then: Drew had 13 assists Wednesday against the Sun Devils, tying his season high. With 19 more, he will pass Pooh Richardson's 236 for UCLA's single-season assists record.

"If UCLA would win our conference, I would vote for him as conference player of the year," UA coach Sean Miller said Friday. "With the great tradition that UCLA has, that a player could break the all-time single-season assist record - that alone shows you the value of him. He's an excellent player."

Drew leads the Pac-12 with 7.8 assists per game and a 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, despite playing 35.2 minutes per game, fifth-most in the conference.

He's second in the nation in assist-turnover ratio and fourth in assists per game.

"He's a very good decision-maker," Howland said. "He's very good at pushing the ball. He's very unselfish. He's a pass-first point guard."

But Drew, who has played in 124 career games, is turning himself into a scoring weapon. He averages only 7.1 points, but has averaged 10.5 in the past four games, making 9 of 13 three-point attempts.

Howland said teams no longer dare him to shoot. Likewise, he said, Drew has improved as the "point of attack" of the Bruins' defense.

Drew is trying to enjoy the end of his long college journey.

"It's weird: the way that I am, I think a lot," he said. "I play like I have a lot of passion; even off the court, I'm passionate personally.

"It's funny. Right now at this point, especially now in my season, in my life, I'm really not thinking too much about what's going on.

"I really want my instincts. Experience.

"Just being at home, being back and being comfortable. I haven't been this comfortable since I left to go to UNC in the first place."

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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