Drew Returns to Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- While the North Carolina basketball team practiced Wednesday evening on the main Smith Center court, UNC signee Larry Drew and his Taft High School squad were running drills down the hall at the building's Practice Court.

"It's a good experience for me – it's great to play here," Drew said of the practice session at his future home. "I thought we were going to get to practice on the big court, but that's for next year."

Taft has returned to the Triangle for a second straight appearance in the Holiday Invitational, a three-day event held this year at Broughton High School in Raleigh.

"We wanted the people at Carolina to see Larry and see how much he's improved," said Taft head coach Derrick Taylor, whose team's first round game is at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

So, how much has Drew, a 6-0 senior point guard, improved?

"An awful lot," Taylor said. "He's playing at the highest level he's played since he's been at Taft. "[The UNC fans] will see a stronger guy -- he's physically mature. He can better handle getting bumped and pushed.

"He's quicker, is shooting the ball better, and his overall game has improved with better decision making. Turnovers are down, he makes the right pass at the right time. I don't have to talk to him much at all anymore, and can pretty much let him go, since we're on the same page.

"He may come in tomorrow and score two points, but if he can dominate the game by passing and getting his teammates involved to win the game, that's all he cares about."

Drew echoed his coach's sentiments regarding his personal improvement over the last year.

"I think I've improved – strength-wise and my quickness has picked up, I think," he said. "And my defense is a little bit [better]."

"I should be [playing at my highest level] – I'm a senior. Everyone else is my age or younger. I should be dominating every game I go out there and play. I'm not satisfied with anything less."

But as his coach explained earlier, to Drew, ‘dominating' doesn't mean scoring a lot of points.

"To me, dominating means just controlling the game, controlling the tempo, playing at the pace I want to play and getting my teammates involved," Drew said.

After a runner-up finish last year at the Holiday Invitational, Drew's goal this time around at the tournament is pretty clear: he wants to bring home the hardware.

"I'm just trying to win – I just want to win games," he said emphatically. "Play my heart out, get my teammates involved and come out with the championship."

While Drew's physical maturity has improved, his mental maturity has always been one of his best assets, and his coach thinks that'll keep him focused and unfazed by the pressure of playing in front of Tar Heel fans this week.

"He never plays outside himself," Taylor said. "He doesn't get swayed by that."

Nor should he. After all, he doesn't have anything to prove to the people that matter most.

"Coach Williams knows what he's getting," Drew said. "I'm just going to go out there and play my game and hopefully the fans will enjoy watching me play."

The NCAA's mandated ‘Dead Period' (Dec. 24-26) prevented Drew from talking with the UNC coaching staff, who were right down the hall Wednesday night, but Drew will return to the Smith Center on Thursday after his team's first round game to meet with the coaches and watch the Tar Heels' game against Nevada.

Drew attended ‘Late Night' this past October, and went to a UNC game in Las Vegas last month, but this will be his first game at the Smith Center.

"I'm excited to see how the crowd is, how the crowd reacts and what it's like to play in the Dean Dome," he said.

Drew will be accompanied Thursday night by his two younger brothers and his mother – a regular fixture on his travels – all of which are regularly decked out in Carolina Blue.

"Ever since I chose Carolina, we've all been wearing the shirts, pants, hoodies," Drew said, continually brimming with excitement when discussing his future as a Tar Heel.

"I can't wait to come here – I'm just real excited about being here," he said. "Every time I come here my eyes are wide open. This is where I'm going to be for the next four years of my life."

As the 90-minute practice concluded, Drew and his teammates bundled up to head back to their Raleigh hotel amidst a chilly December night. It's not weather that Drew is accustomed to, but he's learning to adapt. North Carolina may be a little colder, and may lack the famous "In-N-Out Burger" joint, but Drew has already found a worthy replacement.

"They have Steak ‘n Shakes out here, though," he said, "and I'm crazy about that place."

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