If you can find one of them, pull out Roy Williams' press conference after the loss to George Mason in 2006 or the debacle against Kansas in 2008. The visage of Roy in those press conferences is one of abject sadness to the point of tears. If you saw Roy Williams sit in front of the assembled media on Friday at 2 PM EST, you saw pretty much the same face sans the tears. It was clear Roy was a man both stunned and stung by the news Larry Drew was leaving UNC for destinations unknown. And why not? While the national media and 98% of the Tar Heel fan base had clamored for Kendall Marshall to start at PG, Roy resisted the notion. From October until now, Roy had rejected the idea Drew was the primary cause of the disaster which was the 2010 season. More than once, Roy had gone to plate in defense of his now former PG. While everyone wanted to talk about Marshall, it was Roy who kept talking about the importance of Drew. His defense, Roy would say, was monumentally crucial to the team's success. Even on Tuesday night while the likes of Jeff Goodman were driving the Marshall Bandwagon at 100 mph, Roy deflected a question about the difference Marshall had made by pointing out that Drew had been good as well. Whether this was loyalty to a fault or Roy trying like mad to be right, he stuck by Drew. Roy's affinity for Drew reached a point where we all thought he was nuts or a slave to a lineup once he had set it.
Despite his effort, Roy's expression this afternoon said it all. This was the face of loyalty spurned. The face of a man genuinely hurt by an audacious betrayal.
The reaction coming from UNC fans and the media fell about as you would expect it once you got past the sheer shock that a player averaging 20 minutes per game for a 16-5 ACC team would pull his chute cord on February 4th. There is the contingent of those who were perfectly happy with the move. "Addition by subtraction" was tossed around freely and the manner in which Drew executed his departure from Chapel Hill have folks license to let all the negative feelings they had been harboring about the junior point guard hang out. I do not count myself in this camp, at least where this current season is concerned. Whether you liked Drew or not, there is no getting around the fact his play was a part of the team's recent success. The progress of UNC basketball at this point in the season can be owed to many factors. The anti-Drew/pro-Marshall contingent in the media decided that it was all owed to Marshall's presence as a starter which made Harrison Barnes better. This kind of thinking is incomplete and far too simplistic. Drew was an important part of this team and while I have confidence in these players to adjust, as I am sitting here less than 48 hours before UNC meets FSU on the court at the Dean Dome, I cannot subscribe to the notion that losing Drew makes this team better right now. Now if you want to discuss next season, then I would agree that Drew's decision relieves Roy Williams of a very prickly situation come 2012 when I think it would be difficult not to give Marshall the majority of the minutes assuming he develops has most players do at that point in college. For now this hurts the team and means some tough adjustments must occur to maintain the current level of play. The remaining Tar Heels seem plenty motivated to make it happen so there is at least that.
Putting the basketball aside I have spent the past twelve hours digesting this I still cannot put my finger on what stings the most about this situation. Was it the shocking nature of it? The fact it makes no sense whatsoever? The selfishness of Drew? The potential role his parents may have played? All these factors create multiple layers on which people are royally ticked at Drew and his family. Ed Davis and Ty Lawson both made comments on Twitter that there are two sides to every story and one should not fault a person for doing what is best for them. Both valid points. Yet, without further explanation from Drew or his family outside the statements that have been made, the other side of the story doesn't mean a darn thing.
The side of the story that is being told now and will be told is Larry Drew II, pissed off he was no longer starting and despite improved play on the court, full throated support of his coach and playing for a team on the rise quit on that coach, his teammates and UNC fans. Whether Drew likes it or not, that is the story he must now live with. As for what is best for Drew, it is difficult to accept that is the case when the move being made appears to be such an incredibly bad idea. There is no benefit to leaving the team now, at least in terms of Drew's ability to transfer to another school and have the ability to play during the second semester somewhere else. It a horrible PR move since any coach worth their salt is going to think twice about accepting a transfer from a player who bailed on his team at a crucial juncture in the season. So this might be what's best for Drew in his mind and his parents' mind but no one else can see it. If anything it makes Drew less attractive as a transfer than it would had he stuck it out until the end of the season.
Roy Williams said clearly Drew was not happy. If that was the case then someone should re-open Oscar nominations because Drew hid it well enough. What I don't understand and perhaps this is what bugs many the most is why Drew felt it had to be now. Again, the lack of explanation creates some harsh speculation such as the belief this was done in an effort to screw UNC the most. For me it comes down to a simple question:
You were so unhappy you could not stick it out for another 6-8 weeks?
Maybe he couldn't but without explanation from Drew or his family I have a difficult time accepting that. We all do things we are unhappy about. Many of us have endure jobs and/or relationships for longer than two months because we had to, because that is life. This was an extreme decision. A player leaving his team this late in the season only happens due to injury, coach's decision or some egregious personal situation. In other words, players who leave teams in February do so because they have no other choice. By leaving UNC this way Drew is saying his or his parents' unhappiness with UNC was so acute, the only available choice was to walk away from his teammates and coach. Never mind that coach was willing to fight his own fans in support of you and you were part of a team that needed you. None of that mattered, only Drew's sense of happiness and what he concluded was best for him.
Of course the final straw in all of this comes from Larry Drew, Sr. who said this prior to the Atlanta Hawks' game tonight:
This was a decision that was made long before this season even started to be perfectly honest. We'd been contemplating it for awhile.
If that was the case then why not do this before the season started? Why not save UNC trouble and allow Roy Williams to go into the season knowing the cards he was being dealt rather than pull the rug out from under him on the stretch run? In other words Drew was going through the motions right up to Thursday when he practiced with team only to abandon them twelve hours later. Drew strung UNC along for reasons I guess only he knows and in the end did not even have the guts to tell Roy himself but left that up to his father to do for him. I suppose that tells you all you need to know about Larry Drew and his family.
Let us never speak of them again.