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Mizzou's Greatest, #104: Larry Drew

Not every great player gets to play on a bunch of great teams.

The Savitar

From Michael Atchison:

Larry Drew was Missouri’s first great modern point guard, a leader, playmaker and scorer without peer at his position. After becoming the first freshman at Mizzou to be a regular starter in the modern era, Drew helped lead the Tigers to an improbable NCAA berth as a sophomore, earning admittance by winning the Big Eight Tournament despite a losing overall record. Steady throughout his career, Drew shone as a senior, earning all-league honors and rallying a group of underclassmen to a Big Eight title and a run to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, including an upset of ninth-ranked Notre Dame, a game in which Drew dished a then-school-record 12 assists. At his career’s conclusion, Drew was number two on Mizzou’s all-time scoring list, and he held career records for assists, steals, field goals, games played, starts and consecutive starts.

From The 1980 Savitar:

Maybe when he leafs through the pages of Missouri's record book he'll throw out his chest a little. Maybe he'll even talk about his accomplishments. After all, during this past season Drew not only provided leadership to a young club, but set five Tiger records along the way.

That's something that would have most college seniors with an eye toward pro ball crowing their heads off, but not Drew.

"I like to think of myself as a team player," Drew said. "I really get pleasure out of doing it, too. I like playing with guys I know can perform." […]

"He's the man we look to" freshman Jon Sundvold said of his mentor and backcourt partner. "He's come up with the big play, too."

Sundvold is one of the topics Drew will discuss before himself. When the blue-chip freshman fell into a starting position beside drew after Steve Wallace became academically ineligible, the senior took Sundvold a little tighter under his wing." […]

But when you ask Drew about the past season, he doesn't even have to put his feelings into words. His smile reveals them best.

"We really did some playing," Drew said. "We're like one big family out on that court, helping each other out, complimenting each other. To me, that's the sign of a championship team."

"It was a thrill to be a part of it."

Next season, the resounding "Dreeeeew" cheer will be missing from the player introductions, but his marks will be left. He'll let his accomplishments speak for themselves after he's gone.

(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

1976-77: 6.9 PPG (43% FG, 75% FT), 2.8 APG, 2.8 RPG
1977-78: 12.7 PPG (44% 2PT, 76% FT), 2.6 APG, 3.0 RPG
1978-79: 15.2 PPG (50% 2PT, 64% FT), 4.3 APG, 2.6 RPG
1979-80: 12.9 PPG (54% 2PT, 82% FT), 2.9 RPG, 5.0 APG

In his sophomore and junior seasons, Wyandotte graduate Larry Drew piled up stats for a team that just didn't have the bodies. Mizzou went just 27-31 (14-16 in the Big 8) in this time, but thanks to drew and a resurgent Stan Ray, the Tigers surged to a shocking Big 8 tournament title and NCAA bid in 1978. In 1979, Drew began to surge, making half of his shots from the field while scoring 15 points and dishing four assists per game. But an ultra-young team with three freshmen and two sophomores in the rotation just wasn't ready to succeed. The Tigers lost nine of 10 in December and early January (including all three games at the Big 8's Christmas tournament) before rallying. They won five of six in January, won three of four to finish the regular season, and crushed Oklahoma State in the first round of the Big 8 tournament before falling by just three points to Kansas.

In his senior season, however, Drew got the play-makers he needed. Norm Stewart brought in three new studs to the rotation: sophomore Ricky Frazier and freshmen Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sundvold. Mizzou began the next season 9-0 with wins over Illinois, USC and Saint Louis. Three-point losses at No. 3 DePaul and Kansas stopped the winning streak, but the Tigers would cruise to an 11-3 conference record to win their first of four straight conference titles.

Mizzou drew the No. 5 seed in the Midwest region of the 1980 NCAA Tournament. After dispatching of San Jose State, 61-51, in the first round, the Tigers took on No. 9 Notre Dame, the region's fourth seed. In what may have been his crowning achievement, Drew scored 15 points and dished 12 assists, and Mizzou surprised the Irish in overtime, 87-84. Sophomore Mark Dressler was the surprising star, scoring 32 points on 12-for-15 shooting, but Drew ran the show.

Drew has continued to make a name for himself over the past three decades. He was drafted 17th overall in the 1980 NBA Draft and played for 10 seasons for the Detroit Pistons, Kansas City/Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers; he was a star for the Kings, averaging 20.1 points and 8.1 assists per game in 1983, 16.4 and 7.6 in 1984, and 14.9 and 6.7 in 1985. And after almost two decades as an NBA assistant, he was hired as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks in 2010; he has led the Hawks to three straight winning seasons, reached the second round of the playoffs in 2011, and is currently preparing for Game 6 of the first round against the Indiana Pacers.

In all, Larry Drew's timing was a little bit off. He came to Columbia a year after Mizzou's Elite Eight run of 1976, and he only shared the court one year with Stipanovich, Sundvold, and Frazier. But he made the most of his senior season, and his stats and the surprising 1978 run secured his legacy. Not every great player gets to play on a bunch of great teams, but Drew's accomplishments still secured him a place among Mizzou's greatest.