When Roy Williams spoke with Larry Drew Sr. at 9 a.m. Friday morning, there was no changing his mind.
The father of point guard Larry Drew II told North Carolina’s basketball coach that his son would no longer be a Tar Heel, giving no indication of where he may transfer.
“At that point, he told me that Larry was leaving,” said Williams, who had a long, private discussion with Drew Sr. “Basically there was no arbitrating. There was no trying to see if we could rectify anything. That was the decision that was made.
“It’s a huge blow to our team. No, I didn’t see it coming.”
The move to leave UNC comes after two and a half years with a program where he won a national title and lost in the NIT finals before being benched midway through this season. Drew’s play received harsh criticism from the UNC fanbase while freshman Kendall Marshall waited on the bench.
Williams replaced Drew with Marshall against Clemson on Jan. 18 and the Tar Heels haven’t lost since.
“When there was the lineup change he took it great,” Marshall said. “He was still helping me out from the bench as much as he was doing when he was on the court.”
In the three games after taking a spot on the bench, Drew elevated his game with 18 assists and just two turnovers. His defensive was just as impressive as he garnered two team defensive player of the game awards in contests coming off the bench.
Williams said it was “evidently” the right time to bench Drew with hindsight being 20/20.
Drew’s decision comes two days before UNC’s match against Florida State and less than a week before the Duke game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. His departure left Williams’ game plan on Sunday with a gaping hole.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day and a game plan wasn’t built in five hours,” Williams said.
“You have to start all over.”
Not only is the timing poor for UNC, but also for Drew. Unless the guard transfers to a non-Division I school, he’ll have to sit out all of next season.
“If it was up to me — and I’m sure 99 percent of the people in the world — we would have liked to see him stay until the end of the season,” Marshall said. “Larry is a grown man and he makes his own choices.”
Drew gave no indication to any of his teammates or coaches that he would leave. Tyler Zeller found out through a friend texting him, and Marshall through Facebook.
Zeller said teammate Justin Watts, Drew’s roommate, had no idea he had left. Watts went to class thinking Drew was still at UNC.
“The reason it shocked me so much is I feel like he had accepted his role,” Zeller said. “He knew what his role on this team was and he did a great job doing it.
“It’s disturbing because it’s the middle of the season. It’s a week before Duke so it makes it difficult.”
Marshall said there has been no contact between the two since he heard the news. He was seemingly unwilling to reach out to his former teammate any time soon.
“That’s not one of my main concerns right now,” Marshall said. “My main concern is focusing on the people we have in the locker room.”
Admittedly, Williams does not have much experience with transfers. In 23 years of coaching, he’s had only six transfers before Drew. But three of those have come within the last year, with David and Travis Wear’s unplanned departure just as much of a shock to the program as Drew’s.
The turnover from last year’s team continues on top of the Wear twins, Ed Davis’ early entry to the NBA draft and Will Graves’ dismissal from the team in October.
Marshall said the initial impact of the decision has worn off and he has been able to lighten the mood with other Tar Heels.
“I’ve been joking around with my teammates, telling them to keep oxygen and water next to the bench,” he said. “I’m prepared for it. I’m ready.”
Zeller, on the other hand, wasn’t able to joke. After three seasons with Drew—sometimes taking his back against the critics—and having already dealt with two other friends transferring from UNC, Zeller took it personally.
“I mean a little bit,” he said. “He’s a great teammate and he’s been here with me through everything. But at the same time, he has been through it all with us. He left us a little stranded.”
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