Larry Drew II knows something that you don’t know.
What an enigma. This backup point guard turned starter, who many experts, fans and haters concede to be one of, if not the weakest link on North Carolina’s basketball team, walking into the Dean Dome’s media room as self assured as, say, his predecessor Tywon Lawson.
A rock of certainty with a collective perception of anything but, Drew is almost a walking contradiction, sporting a black oversized, fitted Cincinnati Reds cap and wearing a poker face while exuding the personality of a seasoned Boy Scout.
“Larry Drew,” he says with a nod while simultaneously extending his right hand. “Nice to meet you.”
He seems to know what’s coming, but it doesn’t make our sit down any less awkward, initially.
Is he fully aware of the massive tempered expectations due to him being at the controls this season?
“I’m more than aware,” he says with an uncomfortable grin. “No one has ever come up to me and said ‘you’re whack,’ but my homeboys will tell me at times that they had to stick up for me because people were saying that I wasn’t gonna do anything, I’m weak, whatever… It’s all based off of last season.”
To be fair, the perception is unfair.
The reality is that whenever Drew subbed in last season it was for the best point guard in college basketball, which, even at Drew’s best, would mean a dropoff for the Tar Heels.
Welcome to North Carolina… AKA Final Four or bust if you ask crazed fans.
Yes, even after winning the NCAA title last season and losing four horses (Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington) to the NBA Draft.
“I’m OK with the expectations,” says Drew. “But we’re very young and it may take us a little time to reach that level, though we can achieve it… But it’s like they have high expectations for the team and low expectations for me. I’m telling you though, people are gonna be surprised. I’m more than capable and my confidence is way up.”
Still, confidence isn’t afraid of the facts.
“No doubt,” says Drew.
The numbers for him last season were forgettable â€“ 1.4 points, 1.9 assists, 1.2 turnovers, 1.1 rebounds in 9.6 minutes per game. His best performance was a 4 point, 6 assist, 5 rebound and 1 turnover effort in a 116-48 mollywapping of UNC Asheville on Nov. 30.
And often times when Drew, a 6-2 sophomore, spelled Lawson he admittedly looked in over his head.
“That’s true,” he says. “I don’t deny that, but to be honest with you, I just never got a chance to show what I could really do last season because of what we had. It’s a mindset thing for me.”
A few years back, Drew got the chance to workout with, very likely, the player with the toughest mindset in the NBA â€“ Kobe Bryant.
“It was crazy,” recalls Drew. “It started at like 3 or 4 a.m. or something like that and we finished at 8 a.m. He worked so hard out there. He had a drill where he dribbled to the elbow and he’d have to have eight makes in a row. Then when he did it again, he’d make a move and have a counter in case the move got stopped. Then he’d have a counter for that counter. It was unreal. He’s possessed or something. It was like he had something to prove.”
Much like Drew, Bryant had skeptics who said that with just him the Lakers would never win another NBA title…
“But they won this year,” says Drew matter-of-factly. “It just shows me that it can be done. I think back to that workout and I saw how hard you have to work to make it happen. So I went home and worked really hard this summer.”
His No. 1 focus? Improving his jump shot.
“It needed some work,” he says.
Chances are you didn’t follow Drew in high school so his shooting woes last season were a bit baffling to say the least. Thirty-five percent from the field and 23 percent from the arc for a guy who won the 3-point shooting contest at the McDonald’s All American game in 2008?
Fools Gold, according to Drew.
“That probably had people thinking shooting was a strong aspect of my game,” says Drew of winning. “Even back then I had a hitch in my shot so I worked out all summer with my dad (Atlanta Hawks assistant Larry Sr.) and my shot has really improved. I don’t have any excuses and I’m not hiding anything.”
Contrarily, Drew is very forthcoming about his lackluster backup role last season.
“It’s understandable for people to be down on me,” he says. “Last year, from a statistical standpoint, I kind of want to block all of that out. I don’t want to forget because it was great with the title and everything, but I didn’t play my best, so I don’t like to think about what I did.”
It’s when he talks about what he plans to do that he perks up.
When asked how, from specifically the point guard position, the offense will be different from when Lawson was running the show, Drew offers, “Foot speed. Ty is unbelievably fast with the ball, and I’ll tell you right now I won’t be as fast as him. I’ll find other ways to push the tempo because we’re still gonna play fast. Other than that, there won’t be much difference. We’re similar in how we find the open man, break down the defense and defend, and like I said, my jump shot has gotten better. People are really gonna be surprised when they watch me this year. I’m a totally different player in a totally different situation.”
Still, Drew will admit this much, that at this point this all just sounds good. He knows that mere words won’t change the questionable cloud over his head and that most people who read this article won’t be able resist an immediate eye-roll reaction.
Suddenly, he changes from slouched to upright, looks me smack-dab in the eyes and says, “In the end, I’ll change the perception.”