Larry Drew II was a highly-decorated basketball player at Taft High in Woodland Hills before heading off to find his fame at the University of North Carolina.
Unfortunately for Drew, it never happened as he averaged 1.4 points with 1.9 assists as a freshman, before increasing his output to 8.5 points and six assists as a sophomore.
When you’re one of the best players in the nation, these aren’t the type of numbers Head Coach Roy Williams envisioned for the 6-foot-2 point guard who made the prestigious McDonald’s All-American team, Parade Magazine All-American squad, won the John R. Wooden High School Player of the Year, and was named the Los Angeles City Section Player of the Year.
Midway through his junior season, and after a win over Boston College in which he dished out nine assists, Drew decided to leave Chapel Hill, return home and eventually enroll at UCLA.
Unselfish, it was Drew’s basket with the clock winding down that gave the Bruins a two-point victory against Washington at Pauley Pavilion on February 7.
This past Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena, Drew, who sat out last season, was at it again as he tallied the key bucket with 32.6 seconds left.
On the play, Drew, who averages 7.3 points and a Pacific 12 Conference-leading 7.7 assists, drove past the defender and eased in a layup that handed the visitors a five-point lead and helped UCLA secure a 61-54 victory over the Huskies as it claimed the regular-season title for the fourth time under Head Coach Ben Howland.
“We can do anything in the [NCAA] tournament,’’ said Drew, who was recently named all-conference, first-team, after tallying seven points with six assists, “if we stick together and believe in ourselves. Anything is possible.”
With Oregon losing to host Utah, the No. 23rd-ranked Bruins (23-8 and 13-5 in conference) will be the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tourney which begins this week at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
And if UCLA is to prevail, Drew, a senior who broke the single-season school record for assists, and has six games with 10 or more assists including a high of 13 twice, will have to get the ball to freshman small forward Shabazz Muhammad, who poured in a game-best 21 points and pulled down six rebounds, freshman shooting guard Jordan Adams (17 points) and junior forwards Travis Wear and David Wear, who combined for 12 points.
Coming up to Seattle has been a nightmare for the Bruins, who haven’t won in this setting since 2004, but it was a different story even though Washington led 31-30 at the half.
UCLA went on a 10-5 tear to open the second half and led 40-36 with 15:46 showing.
The Huskies (17-14 and 9-9 in conference) came within 44-41 and 11:36 left, but Washington freshman guard Andrew Andrews (seven points) knotted it at 45-45 with a hoop after a steal as just under nine minutes remained.
UCLA freshman shooting guard Kyle Anderson (eight rebounds and four points) cut Washington’s advantage to 52-50 with a basket and 4:52 showing, then the Bruins went on a 7-2 blitz before sophomore power forward Shawn Kemp Jr. (10 points) dunked to get the Huskies within 57-54 and 1:03 left.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.