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After two seasons at Webb, Drew went hardship; these days that description is obsolete, now they use ‘One and Done’.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!