Column: Drewgate

There’s been a lot of discussion, and rightfully so, on the subject of Larry Drew II’s sudden departure from the Carolina basketball team Friday morning. Mostly, he’s been panned for his decision, and that might actually be putting it lightly. Read Seth Davis, Gary Parrish and Andy Katz. Larry won’t be getting any sympathy in the media any time soon.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably aware that for the past two seasons, we’ve defended LD numerous times. First and foremost, this is not another defense of Larry Drew II. The manner in which he left the team is not something that deserves defending, and Drew’s cowardice in his departure is not emblematic of Dean Smith’s famous “Carolina Way.”

What we would like to do, however, is try and decipher what could have led to his decision, which seemingly doesn’t make any sense.

Larry Drew Sr. told the News & Observer last week that the decision for LDII to transfer was made before the season even started. That’s bullshit. If you’ve already made your decision, you leave. Drew II had to have originally had the intention of playing out the entire season. By leaving after the start of this semester, he loses roughly a third of a season of eligibility. There’s absolutely no benefit to him leaving now. Some popular theories are 1) that LD is just saying “screw you” to the team and putting his own pride above the team’s well-being and 2) his parents have convinced him he deserves better.

While Davis’ story above reports on the issues that Drew’s mother presented to the coaches and athletic department, and on the surface it does seem LD is just bailing on the team, those theories don’t capture the whole story. Remember, Drew is actually hurting his own basketball future by leaving now. What coach is going to want to pick up LD this offseason? A mediocre point guard with character questions and intrusive parents? No, thanks.

There’s got to be more to it than that. How many regular students do you know who just pick up and leave one month into the Spring semester, let alone student athletes in the middle of their season? The constant harping by the media that Kendall Marshall is a superior point guard — which is true — along with the huge ovations Marshall has been receiving of late must have been taking their toll. The pressure of being UNC’s point guard was taking it’s toll. The pressure he was getting from his parents was taking its toll. The simple fact is Drew was miserable — so miserable, that he couldn’t stay another day.

Coaches had said that Larry took his demotion to the bench well, something that might explain his increased production in a reserve role. Perhaps the temporary relief of not starting was soon thwarted by the praise of Marshall’s recent play, which subsequently requires a comparison to the lesser player Drew.

I won’t even begin to speculate if his misery was rooted in a belief that he was actually deserving of the starting role, or if it was rooted in a feeling of abandonment by his team, but being depressed is not something that anyone deals with well. His demotion instigated the media coverage, parental pressure and personal anguish that must have consumed him. And while his actions were ungraceful, perhaps Larry does deserve a little sympathy.

That being said, Roy Williams and the coaching staff handled his demotion (and don’t let anyone tell you that his demotion wasn’t the impetus for his departure) in the best way possible. Fans had been clamoring for Marshall to start for several weeks before the gradual transition took place in the Georgia Tech game. Roy substituted five for five several times in the game before leaving Marshall on the floor while the rest of the starters came in. The next game, Marshall was the official starter, but was still splitting minutes more or less evenly with Drew. This slow transition was obviously a conscious decision, and probably a decision made to let LD down gently.

Apparently it wasn’t gently enough, but that’s all they could do.

While we feel sorry for Drew, we still feel the confusion and betrayal that we did upon his announcement Friday. The fact is, regardless of his reasons and whether those reasons are justified, Drew bailed without warning. He didn’t show his teammates and coaches the respect they deserved, making a bad situation worse. After seeing Drew handle this ordeal with so little class, there will be no love lost here at the Rafters. At the same time, however, we won’t be cursing his name.