Perhaps no single player on the North Carolina roster is under a bigger microscope this season than point guard Larry Drew, who is going to be a key factor in the team's success or failure as they defend their national championship.
Replacing standout Ty Lawson this year, Drew is going to have to take advantage of the things he does well without trying to replicate last season's ACC Player of the Year.
"I have told him (Drew) that he doesn't have to be Ty, because he's not Ty," said UNC head coach Roy Williams. "He's not going to be Ty."
"He (Williams) told me to just be myself when I'm out there playing. Before me was Ty (Lawson), and before Ty was Raymond (Felton)," Drew said. "He (Coach Williams) told Ty the same thing, not to go out there and try to be Raymond. He told me not to try to go out there and try to be Ty."
"I've just got to be myself. Larry Drew is who I am. That's what got me here is being Larry, so that's what I'm going to keep doing," Drew added. "I know I'm here for a reason. There's a reason why Coach Williams recruited me."
While Drew is not as quick as Lawson, there are some things that he can do a little bit better than the former UNC star, thanks to his size.
"He does not have Ty's speed. He's not shown that he's capable of shooting the three-point percentage that Ty did. He hasn't shown he can penetrate to the basket and score individually like Ty did," Williams said.
However, because of his length---he's at least three inches taller than Lawson---Drew is potentially more capable of defending outside shots along the perimeter.
"(I told Drew), 'You have your own skill set, and there's some things you do better than Ty. There's some things that Ty did better than you," said Williams. "Larry's longer (than Lawson). Defensively he's going to get his hands on more balls. He will deflect more passes. He has an ability to bother an outside shot."
"(Players like Boston College's) Tyrese Rice and (Wake Forest's) Jeff Teague, when a lot of people were bad-mouthing Ty last year, people could shoot over Ty a little bit. It's a little bit harder to shoot over Larry because he has that length."
"I say that his length and his ability on the defensive end to me can be better than Ty, but he's got to go out and do it, though," Williams added. "Larry Drew has the potential to be a very good defensive player."
Last season Drew got a few opportunities to prove himself, but for the most part he had to learn what he could by watching Lawson and Bobby Frasor take the brunt of the minutes at point guard last year.
It was a different experience for Drew having to watch, but he says he did get something out of the experience, and naturally winning an NCAA title as a freshman is something he'll never forget.
"Without Ty in there (following his injury last season) he (Drew) was asked to do a little more, and I think he responded well," Williams said. "He had that comfort zone of Danny and Wayne and Tyler and Deon, who had started almost every game."
"He had that comfort zone of Bobby running out there before him, but I do believe that those games helped him, and I hope that they really helped him a lot," he added.
"It was a learning experience. It was a tough time for me (not playing a great deal), but that's all in the past. That was last year, and I'm just really looking forward to this coming season," Drew said.
"It was incredible, honestly (being a part of UNC's title run)," he added. "It was a lot bigger and a lot greater experience than I thought it was going to be. Sitting back, it hasn't even really kicked in yet. It was a really, really good, valuable learning experience for me."
"Larry was in a tough situation last year playing behind Ty," said sophomore forward Ed Davis. "He wasn't going to see a lot of minutes and he knew that. It's kind of tough on a person who hasn't done that before in their career."
"Most people didn't see the real Larry because he only played two or three minutes at a time," Davis added. "It was real tough on him, and a lot people are down on him and don't think he can do it, but we'll see this year."
There may be some doubt on the part of some fans and maybe even a few national analysts about whether Drew can actually handle the reigns at point guard for North Carolina, but the Tar Heel players and coaches know he can get it done.
"I live with Larry and I know everything that everybody else didn't get to see," said Davis. "I know he can do things that people didn't see last year. He can handle the ball. He can shoot it. But everyone didn't see that last year just because of the position he was in."
"Our backcourt is going to be ready to play," Davis added. "We have great guards but they're kind of young, so that's why people I think may be insecure about it or whatever, but I think we'll be fine. There's no pressure on us at all."
"Larry Drew can really shoot the ball. He probably hasn't been able to prove it thus far, but he'll be able to have the opportunity to do that this year," said senior forward Deon Thompson.
"He has always been a point guard, so he thinks like a point guard. It's a serious approach with him every day," said Williams. "It's the kind of thing that Larry instinctively makes some passes. Larry probably does a better job on the 'screen and roll.' (than Lawson did)."
"I'm ready. I'm more than ready," said Drew. "I'm just going to go out there and play my game. That's all I know how to do, and that's what I'm going to do this year. That's what I need to do."
Along with improving his outside shooting and his jump shoot mechanics during the offseason, Drew also worked on the mental part of his game---notably to not over-think things so much and to just go out and play ball.
"The one thing I really focused on (during the offseason) was my jump shot, just trying to work on my mechanics and getting my jumper right and my conditioning, and just being able to come back this year with confidence and ready to play," Drew said.
"Last year coming in I think I tried to think about stuff too much. I tried to play like too many different people. I tried to do a little bit too much that I wasn't used to or I wasn't ready for," Drew added. "I see now this year the only way that you're going to be successful here (at UNC) is really just playing like who you are, just playing like what got you here, so that's what I'm going to do."
Coach Williams admits that a point guard, in so many ways, is the leader of a team, no matter what year he is.
This means that by default Drew is going to have to step up and provide leadership and a solid work ethic throughout the season.
"I do think you probably need the leader in some ways to be the point guard, because of that position," said Williams. "Two things that are unknown about our team is the guard play, because we don't have anybody that's ever done it, and then the three-point shooting, because we don't have anybody that's ever done it."
"He (Drew) is going to have to come out and lead our team. He's got to get us in our places, run the plays. He's just got to come out, run the team, and I just feel he's doing a great job of that right now," said sophomore forward Tyler Zeller.
"He (Williams) knows that point guard is more about being comfortable being who is really is---being himself---so he just told me to go out there and play my game," Drew added. "I'm just going to go out there and play like me. Like I said, that's the only way that I know how to play."
One of the things that's greatly aided Drew throughout his development as a basketball player is the presence of his father, Larry Drew, Sr., who was a longtime NBA player and is now a NBA coach with nearly 20 years of experience.
"It makes my job a lot easier for me," said Drew about his relationship with his dad. "Stuff that I'm going through, he's already been through. He went to Missouri and played all four years. He played in the NBA fifteen years and he's been coaching 17, 18 seasons now."
"There's nothing that I can think of or nothing I've gone through that he can't be like, 'Okay Larry. I've already gone through this, and this is what's going to happen next. This is how you should be feeling.' He knows everything," Drew added.
As he's worked through preseason practices over the last three weeks, Drew has done a good job running the team, but Williams admits he is looking for more out of the sophomore.
"Larry has been okay. I want him to do better, but the biggest thing is that Larry has got to gain the experience every day in practice, go through the repetitions, and then get in the game and has some success," Williams said. "If he gets in the game and has some success, that's going to help his confidence, and that's basically all he needs."
"He has the ability, and now if you just get that confidence and comfort zone out there, then I think he'll be fine," Williams added. "We haven't tested anybody yet---not just Larry. Those things come from those early-season games."