Joe Santoro: Lindsey Drew has earned right to shed some tears on senior night | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Lindsey Drew has earned right to shed some tears on senior night

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada guard Lindsey Drew looks to pass in the first half.
Thomas Ranson

Lackadaisical, lackluster, languid, laid-back Lindsey Drew is about to show some emotion.

Maybe.

“I definitely might cry a little on Senior Night,” said the laconic senior point guard of this Saturday’s (5 p.m.) ceremony before his Nevada Wolf Pack takes on San Diego State at Lawlor Events Center.

If detached Drew does shed a tear or two on Saturday, you likely won’t see it. Drew, who plays the game of basketball with the same disengaged, matter-of-fact, business-like approach as if he’s deleting spam messages on his cell phone or picking a pair of clean socks out of the laundry, rarely puts his emotions on display for public consumption.

“He’s not an emotional guy,” Pack coach Steve Alford said. “His personality is laid back.”

Yes, Drew is the anti-Alford, just like he was the anti-Eric Musselman, a guy who used to take off his shirt in the arena after a big win. Drew has the type of what-me-worry personality that can test the patience of an emotionally charged, basketball lifer like Musselman or Alford, who played for the lightning bolt of emotions named Bobby Knight.

“Lindsey will be the first to tell you he likes games a lot more than he likes practices,” Alford said.

Coaches who love practices usually struggle with players who don’t. But Alford, who has grown to love Drew’s performance in games, now has fun with his point guard’s placid, sedate and tranquil attitude about, well, everything.

“We tease him all the time,” Alford said. “His phone alarm always goes off five minutes before every meeting. I’ve always told him, ‘You at least want to be within range of four minutes. You don’t want to be 10 minutes away when your phone goes off.’”

Alford hasn’t let Drew’s seemingly I-could-not-care-less off-the-court or practice personality fool him. That’s because he has learned that Drew loves, cherishes and cares for the game of basketball every bit as much as he does.

“I like his demeanor,” Alford said. “He plays hard. He is consistent. Not a whole lot gets him rattled, which is a good demeanor to have as an athlete. You always know what you are going to get from him.”

What does Alford and the Wolf Pack get from Drew? Well, to sum it up, everything.

Drew, now in his fifth year at Nevada after missing more than a year because of an Achilles injury and surgery on both his hips, is having his best season at Nevada by far. He has set new career highs for field goals (117) and attempts (243), 3-pointers (41) and attempts (105), defensive rebounds (161) and total rebounds (187), points (314) and scoring average (11.2).

The 6-foot-4 guard is sixth in the Mountain West in rebounding (6.7 a game), fourth in assists (4.3 a game), fifth in steals (1.4 a game), ninth in blocks (0.9) and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.71).

You simply cannot do all of the things that Drew does on a basketball court without caring. It’s not easy to be 6-4 and fill the stat sheet in assists, blocks, rebounds and clutch field goals. But Drew does it all, seemingly without breaking a sweat.

So, yes, while there are a lot of L words that describe Drew’s flat-line personality. The words lazy, lethargic and lifeless are not among them.

And, oh yeah, one other L-word also does not apply. Loser. Drew has played in 127 games in his Pack career, helping lead the Pack to an eye-opening 92-35 record. The Pack, now 18-10, is on its way to its fourth consecutive season of 20-plus wins with Drew on the active roster.

That’s what Drew cares about the most. Winning. After scoring a career-high 30 points in the Pack’s 79-74 season-opening loss to Utah at Lawlor Events Center back on Nov. 5 (his first game since blowing out his Achilles 20 months earlier), Drew said without hesitation, “It’s cool. But it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t get the W.”

How can a coach not love that guy? Drew definitely has gotten the W’s as well as the assists, rebounds, blocks, steals and, when needed, the buckets.

Does that sound like a guy who doesn’t care? Drew will simply be remembered as one of the most productive players in school history.

He needs just 57 points to reach 1,000. His 127 games are already seventh in school history and his 121 starts are third. His 3,850 minutes are third, his 504 assists are third, his 164 steals are fifth and his 104 blocks are ninth. If he gets another 57 points and 86 rebounds, he will become just the 11th player in Pack history with at least 1,000 points and 600 rebounds.

Remember that cell phone alarm that goes off five minutes before every meeting? Well, Drew also has an inner alarm in his head that goes off when the Pack needs something – a bucket, a steal, a rebound, an assist – on the court.

“He’s our best rebounder,” Alford said. “He runs the show, he makes big baskets when we have to have them. He is unique because of all the things he does.”

There is one other L-word that probably best describes Drew.

Leader.

“I know we had a lack of experience and leadership this year so I’ve just tried to step up,” he said.

Drew’s type of leadership, as you might have guessed by now, is more by example rather than with some loud, boisterous, verbal exclamation points.

When he has a good game about all the media gets out of him is, “I just play my game,” as he said after his 54 points in two games to start the season this year.

Scoring points, it seems, almost embarrasses him as if he is afraid of being branded a shoot-first, selfish, get-out-of-my-way point guard that doesn’t care about his teammates or his team. There were times when former coach Eric Musselman had to force Drew to even shoot the ball.

Drew took five or fewer shots a total of 63 times over his first three seasons at Nevada (99 games). He never scored more than 17 points in a game. He took 10 or more shots just six times. When the Pack was in the College Basketball Invitational in March 2016, he took just 29 shots and scored just 47 points in six games combined.

“That’s not his DNA,” said Alford, who averaged 13.5 shots a game over his 125 games at Indiana. “But this year when we’ve asked him to score, he has. When Jalen (Harris) was out (in the first two games), he stepped up. Since then he’s focused on getting Jalen the ball. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s been nothing but excellence for us.”

So when you watch Drew play a game of basketball, don’t mistake the lack of outward emotion for a lack of passion and fire.

A passion for the game was the main thing Drew learned about himself when he didn’t play a game from February 2018 until this past November. The game his father, former NBA guard and coach Larry Drew, instilled in him from birth was abruptly taken away from him on Feb. 14, 2018 in Boise when he ruptured his Achilles.

“Honestly, it means everything to me,” Drew said. “The biggest thing about this year I’ve felt is me wanting to play basketball and getting back on the court. I wasn’t playing it and it was one of the toughest points of my life.

“I’ve had basketball since Day One, as long as I can remember. Taking it away was a big thing.”

In the 20 months that Drew spent undergoing surgeries and rehabbing injuries, the Wolf Pack went to the Sweet 16 (in March 2018) and were ranked in the Top 25 all season and went back to the NCAA tournament in the 2018-19 season.

Those, after all, were his teams. His teammates. Those should have been his moments, too. He earned them.

“I definitely think I became more humble when I was out,” Drew said. “It made me start to appreciate all the little things.”

There is one other thing that Drew wants all Wolf Pack fans to understand. Don’t mistake his lack of emotion on the court for a lack of emotion about Northern Nevada.

Yes, like almost every player on the Pack roster last spring, he put his name in the NCAA transfer portal after Musselman left for Arkansas. Musselman, after all, was the reason why he came to Nevada.

“He had a plan for me,” Drew said. “And everything he said was going to happen, has happened.”

Drew might have come to Nevada because of Musselman but he fell in love with Northern Nevada along the way. That’s why he stayed even after Musselman left.

“I always knew I wanted to stay here and play,” said Drew of his brief stay in the NCAA transfer portal. “I never really wanted to go anywhere.”

Yes, he was raised all over the country as the son of a successful NBA coach and player. And, yes, he went to high school in Los Angeles and likely would have gone somewhere else to college (maybe to UCLA and Alford in 2015?) had Musselman never come to the Pack.

But Northern Nevada, just like the game of basketball itself, is now and will forever be a part of his DNA. That is why the emotions just might flow on Saturday for the first time.

“Reno definitely means a lot to my heart,” the 22-year-old said. “It took me from high school to who I am right now. Last week it really hit me that we only had (now just one game) left at Lawlor. I definitely have a big heart for the city.”

He’s definitely earned the right to shed a tear or two on Saturday.