Douglas C. Pizac-USA Today Sports

UCLA Basketball: It's Time To Stop Hating Larry Drew II

The UCLA basketball program has struggled for four years. While much of the blame falls on Ben Howland for that, the point guard play in Westwood has been a problem since the departure of UCLA legend Darren Collison.

Of course, 2012-13 was supposed to be different. The Bruins were bringing in a lanky, 6’8” point forward that was smooth as all hell with his handles and had the highest basketball IQ of any high school senior in the country. Kyle Anderson was pegged to be the primary ball-handler and shot creator, and it would be through him that UCLA’s point guard issues would be resolved.

Things changed, though. Larry Drew II started at point guard and Ben Howland began talking up the oft-maligned, senior transfer out of North Carolina. He began to laud his shot-creating ability, his vision, his unselfishness. Howland propped up Drew II as a top-tier, true point guard that would be responsible for much of UCLA’s offense. Typical Howland, propping up a senior over a freshman without merit, track record be damned.

Fans reacted. Drew II was a scrub that had earned the ire of UCLA fans for displacing Anderson from the point guard position on offense. After Drew II racked up 25 assists to just five turnovers after UCLA’s first three games, fans blamed the Bruins struggles — back when UC-Irvine took UCLA to overtime in Pauley Pavilion — on Drew. The offense was sloppy, the eye test proved, and there was absolutely no way the Bruins could win with Drew II as the primary ball-handler. This team just didn’t feel right with Anderson playing off the ball, with Drew II being responsible for play-making.

The stats proved otherwise but UCLA fans were stubborn (present company included). Larry Drew II recorded a nine-assist, turnover-free night against Cal Poly, but the Bruins inexplicably lost that contest — a loss that will haunt them for the rest of this season — and though Drew II wasn’t the primary scape-goat, he was part of the formula that led even the most die-hard Ben Howland supporters to turn on the head coach.

Drew went about his business, though, and UCLA went about theirs. Despite rough going until after the loss to San Diego State in December, Drew II hasn’t slipped up massively and, in fact, has become an assist machine.

The guard’s accumulated 64 assists in UCLA’s eight-game winning streak and has turned over the ball just 15 times in that same span. That’s 4.2 assists per turnover, if you’re keeping count, and that’s eight assists a game to go along with it. Meanwhile, the oft-criticized point man has bailed out UCLA with a few, clutch shots late in games while the Bruins’ offense and/or defense struggled mightily. Most recently, Drew’s heroics allowed UCLA to go up by four points to seal a victory over Utah in the somewhat-raucous Jon Huntsman center with nine seconds to go.

Those snide remarks about Larry Drew II have found themselves subsiding progressively throughout UCLA’s eight-game streak. Yours truly also had a few choice words about Drew II and have since backed off, with the UNC transfer quieting all his critics (which, in a rare twist, were UCLA fans that haven’t seen him play a game).

There are still dissenters, though, and those will maintain that Kyle Anderson needs to be taking over play-making duties on offense, that Larry Drew had benefited from having Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams at his side, and that Anderson could out-produce Drew massively. Ridiculous claims, mind you, but these are what the dissenters say.

Kyle Anderson is performing at a high level at the power forward position, though, and Drew II has become UCLA’s point-guard, while leading the Pac-12 in assists while placing third in the nation for dimes dished.

Larry Drew II didn’t have the most fruitful of transfers, but he’s here and he hasn’t been an issue for UCLA. He’s somehow become a leader, and has done so valiantly through the harsh, in-house critique of his stellar play.

It’s time to stop hating Larry Drew II, ladies and gentlemen. This is your newest representative of the real Point Guard U.

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