BACK PEDAL: JOHN DREW

(Image Compliments of Ray LeBov via Sport Magazine)

Four decades ago, during the early 70’s John Drew scored 77 and 74 points in back-to-back high school games.

This was a time when there was no recruiting services, no skills academies, no AAU and no sports talk radio shows.

Drew played his high school ball at J.F. Shields High School in Beatrice, Alabama.

During his senior year, Drew scored 44 PPG. Over his scholastic career, Drew averaged an amazing 41 PPG!

When you think of basketball players from the State of Alabama guys like Charles Barkley, Robert Horry and Chuck Person come to mind. Drew deserves to be mentioned with this group.

Drew, a 6-foot-6 wiry, athletic forward attended Gardner-Webb University, a small college in North Carolina where in his first two seasons he scored 24 and 25 PPG. By the way, Gardner-Webb has produced two NBA players, Eddie Lee Wilkins and Drew. Artis Gilmore attended GW when it was a Junior College. (FYI, Hubie Brown coached all three guys at one time or another.)

After two seasons at Webb, Drew went hardship; these days that description is obsolete, now they use ‘One and Done’.  The Atlanta Hawks picked Drew in the second round (25th pick overall) of the 1974 draft. The Hawks wanted to make Drew their first pick but their scouting staff didn’t want other teams around the league to laugh at them.

“They told me I had to do this and had to do that to make it in pro basketball,” Drew told Phil Elderkin of the Christian Science Monitor back in 1976. “And I told them I didn’t have to do anything except what I’d always done.”

In Drew’s rookie season he scored 18 PPG and pulled down 10 RPG, making the all-rookie team. It must be noted that Drew led the league in offensive rebounding that year. Drew was great at following his own shot. Thanks to my friend Ray LeBov for this comment from Tom Heinsohn via the 1976 Pro Basketball Handbook:

“John Drew is the only person who reminds me of Elgin Baylor when following their own shot”

This from E.C. Coleman in his analysis of the top scorers in 1976:

His biggest asset is crashing the offensive boards. After he shoots, he’s headed for the basket before his feet hit the
floor.  Shoots 15 times & will miss seven, but he’s following up the shot & putting the ball in on his second attempt, so you have to box him out.

Drew holds an NBA record that many do not strive for;  most turnovers in a game with 14. (Tied with Jason Kidd).

The scoring machine was a 2-time NBA all-star over an 11 year career.  For seven straight seasons, Drew led the Hawks in scoring. The following mention is taken from Sport Magazine, March 1979.

Drew, one of the most-fouled players in the league, often lets his aerial technique take him to the FT line.

“This is one of my secrets,” Drew says, “but I’ll tell it to you.  When I’m on offense & I’m in the air & I have the ball, I hold it out in front of me.  Most defenders reach for he ball & they hit my arm.  I’m strong enough to keep control.”

Much of the control is strength – Drew does leg presses.

“Being a kid growing up, well, most kids like to dunk the ball, touch the rim, get above then rim.  Once I could reach up there, it was a big thing in forming my ego…and when I jump, I like to put my legs up under me.  Psychologically, I feel lie I’m jumping higher.”

Of course, he’s not really jumping higher. “Maybe not, but it feels good.  It’s good for the mind.  And what’s good for the mind is good for the game.”

This past season, when Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks was putting up incredible numbers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Lin in his first 5 starts and his 136 points in those starts is the highest total for a player in his first five starts since John Drew scored 139 points for the Hawks in the 1974-75 season.

That’s 37 years!

Before Drew’s 21st birthday he was able to record six games where he scored 20 points and 20 rebounds in one game!

I recall watching Drew light the Knicks up at Madison Square Garden. The guy had some motor!

Hubie Brown coached Drew for 5 seasons in Atlanta. Taken from an article written by Bruce Newman via Sports Illustrated in 1983:

One of the most idiosyncratic Hawks was John Drew, the All-Star forward to whom Brown regularly referred—both in front of his teammates and to the press—as “cement head,” “moron” and “cinder head,” those being among the least harsh and more printable epithets he applied to Drew. In a painfully public way, Drew had become the ultimate whipping boy. Brown never flinched from his role of bully. For his part, Drew refused to say an unkind word about the coach. But by that time, Drew, by his own subsequent admission, was a heavy user of cocaine. The season the Hawks won 50 games, 1979-80, Brown rode Drew mercilessly, a tactic that further alienated him from many of his players.

Drew was hard to stop on the court; off the court he couldn’t stop. Drugs was Drew’s toughest defender. David Stern banned him in January of 1986 for repeatedly violating NBA’s substance abuse policy.

Roy C. Johnson wrote this piece on Drew in the NY Times back in 1983.

Josh Bean of Alabama.com wrote a piece about Drew two years ago.

“John was like Kobe (Bryant) or Magic Johnson or Larry Bird — he knew when he was hot,” Averett said. “What I would do, when he got hot, he’d shake his hands. I’d tell ’em, ‘Feed him. Feed him!’ And he’d tear ’em down, from anywhere, from any angle.”

Had he not succumbed to cocaine addiction, how would Drew be remembered?

“I believe he would have gone farther than Charles Barkley,” the 83-year-old Averett said. “John Drew had the capabilities of being a player like Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. He had that kind of talent. It just wasn’t no telling how far he could have gone.”

After 8 seasons in Atlanta, Drew was traded to the Utah Jazz where he played three seasons.

“The main thing is to play as hard as you can all the time; whether you’re up 20 or down 20,” Drew told Elderkin from the Christian Science Monitor.

The State of Alabama has a Sports Hall of Fame; Drew is not in it, I think it’s time that changes and the folks behind the scenes need to induct one of the greatest scorers in the history of Alabama High School basketball.

Who knows the whereabouts of John Drew? Let him know I was asking about him. The guy was a big-time scorer back in the day!

HOOPS135@HOTMAIL.COM

TWITTER: @CoachFinamore

10 THINGS I LEARNED FROM TOM IZZO

From 1999 to 2001 I spent time as a member of the men’s basketball support staff at Michigan State University.  Here are 10 things I learned.

1-WORK ETHIC: Nothing gets accomplished without it.  Spartan players are expected to punch the clock as well as the coaching staff, team managers, and staff personnel. Show up early; leave late. I witnessed players work on their  shooting at 1:00 a.m. I have also seen them in the gym at 6 a.m. One summer morning Draymond Green was in the gym with Travis Walton at 6:00 a.m. – working their butts off.

2-ACCOUNTABILITY: Everyone has to carry their own weight. No one can hide. No weak links. Best example was the video coordinator and managers always having the hotel ballroom set up for watching film on the road. Scouting reports have to be studied and memorized. Your best ability at Michigan State is your availability. Hold others accountable too.

3-PASSION: You have to bring it every day and every night. No such thing as “down time” during the season.  You come to work and you give all you have. 100% effort, nothing less is acceptable. “Players Play Tough Players Win.” Leave it all on the court.

4-COMMUNICATION: Everyone talks.  Everyone cheers. Everyone inspires and encourages. “Every day you should think about and talk about how the practice went,” Coach Izzo once mentioned in a meeting.  I never forgot those words. At practice everyone is lifting each other up.  I’ve never seen so much chatter at one practice.  It’s electric and alive. Lots of energy.

5-RECRUITING: One word, relentless. That’s what it’s all about at Michigan State. You’re recruiting non-stop (within the rules of course). Writing letters, phone calls, text messages, evaluations, on-campus visits, AAU events, high school games, individual skill development workouts…always have to be working if you expect to get it done at Michigan State.  Recruits are invited to football games in the Fall enabling the coaching staff a chance to spend time with them.  It’s important you learn about a kid off the court.

6-RELATIONSHIPS: At Michigan State you build and nurture relationships.  Every day you can meet someone new. You build friendships that last forever.  Coach Izzo is big on relationships during summer basketball camp.  Coaches meet coaches.  Campers meeting campers. Working camp in the summer gave me an opportunity to meet some great people; to this day, years later I still have contact with guys I worked with at camp.  One day in the summer I watched Draymond Green work out. After the workout he came over to me and introduced himself.  That gesture says a lot about him. “Get to know the person next to you that you don’t know,” Coach Izzo once said.

7-REBOUND AND DEFENSE: If there’s two basketball attriubtes that stick out in my mind about Michigan State it’s rebounding and defense; the Spartans pride themselves on crashing the boards.  Everyone hits the glass.  Everyone rebounds. You learn to battle. At the defensive end of the floor you never relax.  If you don’t defend at MSU, you sit on the bench. Michigan State is famous for their war drill.  I once watched two players go at each other for three straight possessions, ripping each others jersey, drawing blood.

8-CHARACTER: Coach Izzo looks for guys with character, not characters.  You come to Michigan State to improve your game and to graduate.  You attend class and you give all you have in practice.  You don’t bring attention to yourself.  It’s about the team, not you. You arrive in East Lansing as a boy, you leave a man.

9-INTEGRITY: Do things the right way. Don’t cheat. Tell the truth. Be responsible on and off the court.

10-OPPORTUNITY: In the Spring of 1996, when I arrived in East Lansing from Brooklyn, New York Coach Izzo gave me a golden opportunity to become a better coach and a better person.  When I experience a tough situation, I look back on the time spent at Michigan State and always utilize what I learned to get me through. Players and coaches who arrive in East Lansing get an opportunity to help sustain a great tradition. Winning games the right way; and a chance to prolong their careers whether in the NBA or playing professional basketball over seas (or an assistant coach getting a head coaching job) It’s not only players and coaches who are given the opportunity at Michigan State but team managers make the most of their time under Izzo too. There are a handful of former support staff members from Michigan State that currently hold positions with NBA teams.

“Coach Izzo taught me the fundamentals of the game so that I could become a better player.  When he recruited me, he promised me a chance to play in a championship game to become an all-American.  Because of him, my dreams became a reality.” 

-Jason Richardson

Hoops135@hotmail.com

TWITTER: @CoachFinamore