Bruins guards Norman Powell and Larry Drew II (10) talk strategy during… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
Back home in his old room is the national championship ring Larry Drew II won as a freshman reserve for North Carolina in 2009.
"I don't wear it," UCLA's senior point guard said. "I'll get it out and look at it sometimes."
The ring isn't tarnished. The memories are.
After becoming a starter, Drew had the woes of the Tar Heels' program placed on his doorstep when North Carolina fell short of expectations the following season. And the season after that, as a junior, he found himself in the process of being replaced by a freshman.
So he left.
Unfortunately, with Tobacco Road in the rearview mirror, Drew's route to the NBA seemed at a dead end.
He had only one year of eligibility left. Where to spend it was key to his future.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland's resume was hard to ignore. Former Bruins point guards Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday had all been first-round NBA draft picks.
"I'm friends with Russell and Darren. We played against each other," said Drew, who starred at Woodland Hills Taft High. "I knew how Coach Howland developed point guards."
Apparently still does.
Although most of the chatter about the Bruins' freshman class turned out to be deserved, the one-and-done guy who makes the show go is Drew, a senior who sat out more than a year waiting for the opportunity.
That UCLA won the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title and will play Minnesota in the NCAA tournament on Friday can be placed on Drew's mantel. And he may just be getting started.
"There have been a lot of great point guards under Coach Howland who have gone on to do remarkable things beyond college basketball," Drew said. "Hopefully, I'm the next in line."
Drew's dribbling down an NBA path became a more likely scenario as the season progressed.
After a 75-71 overtime loss to USC, the scouting report on how to beat UCLA was to lock down freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, and to let Drew shoot instead.
So Drew shot. And the scouting report had to change.
Drew is shooting 51% — a blistering 61% from three-point range — in the last 12 games.
When UCLA trailed Arizona State by 15 points in a Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal, Drew brought the Bruins back by making eight of 10 shots — and all four three–point attempts — to finish with a season-high 20 points.
The other parts in the point guard job description Drew already had down. His 253 assists broke Pooh Richardson's UCLA season record and are third on the Pac-12 single-season list, behind California's Jason Kidd and Arizona State's Ahlon Lewis.
Drew's average of 7.4 assists per game is fourth-best in the nation, and his 3.1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is third.
What's not reflected in those statistics is the value of Drew's leadership.
Leading scorer Muhammad was on the brink of an altercation — and perhaps a suspension — when he reacted angrily after being stepped on by Carrick Felix late in the Arizona State game.
"Larry grabbed me and said, 'Keep your composure,'" Muhammad said. "When he talks, with his experience, you listen."
Howland looks for such qualities in floor leaders.
"Larry has that great motor you need," Howland said. "That's critical. Everyone feeds off it."
Asking Howland what makes a good point guard is like asking a long-winded English professor his take on Shakespeare. You get a dissertation that seems never to end.
"Point guard, how much time do you have?" Howland said. "You have to understand time and score, the flow of the game, knowing the personnel, knowing who can hit shots in certain situations and who can't. You have to realize who's got it going, and get the ball back to him.
"You have to know how to jump-stop, read how to come off ball screens, how to defend and understand defense. It all starts with your point guard stopping the ball in transition. You have to pressure the ball so it is harder for that team's quarterback to run that offense...."
And so on and so forth.
"You learn to be a leader," Drew said. "Then Coach Howland gives you the utmost trust. He gives you room, lets you use your instincts."
Howland admits blowing it when Drew was a high school senior at Taft. Drew was recruited by Howland, but he wanted to wait before committing. Howland didn't wait.
But Howland wasn't going to miss on a second chance, no matter how many people criticized Drew for what happened at North Carolina.
Howland said it was unbelievable how much Drew was maligned.
Drew accepted it.
"I was painted as the bad guy," Drew said. "I knew it was going to happen.
"I took my responsibility for it. I sat out. I paid my dues and played my tail off this year. Now we're here, in the NCAA tournament. I've got a great bunch a guys with me who are hungry and ready to play."
And some untarnished memories.