Lindsey Drew is the Nevada Wolf Pack basketball team’s Renaissance Man, says Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
The first time Lindsey Drew stepped onto a basketball court for the Nevada Wolf Pack in a regular season game he missed a 3-point shot attempt, blocked an opponent’s shot and then hauled in a rebound. The young man from Southern California had been a college basketball player for all of 88 seconds and already he was filling up a stat sheet.
Drew’s career has gone from 88 seconds to now 88 games and, well, nothing has changed after two-plus seasons, 330 assists, 111 steals, 391 rebounds, 77 blocks and 521 points.
“Lindsey’s done such a remarkable job,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said after Saturday’s 77-74 victory over the New Mexico Lobos at Lawlor Events Center.
Musselman was speaking specifically about Drew’s ability to flawlessly handle the basketball against an opposing team’s press. The Pack coach, though, also could have just as easily been talking about any one of the dozen or so skills the young man from Fairfax High in Los Angeles brings to the court on a nightly basis for his basketball team.
The Wolf Pack has had a glorious track record of developing point guards over the last four decades, from Billy Allen, Darryl Owens, B.B. Fontenet, Curtis High, Robin Kennedy and Kevin Soares to Armon Johnson, Ramon Sessions, Deonte Burton and Eathan O’Bryant. Some were more explosive and dynamic than Drew. Some were more daring and aggressive. Some took your breath away on a more consistent basis. Some will certainly be remembered far longer. But none of them did as much on a consistent basis game after game than the young man from Southern California.
Drew is quite simply the Wolf Pack’s very own Renaissance man. His passes allow his teammates to be successful. He defends the other team’s best scorer. He handles the ball with as much efficiency as any point guard in Wolf Pack history. Only 12 players in the nation right now have a better assist-to-turnover ration that Drew’s 3.5. The Wolf Pack lists Drew as 6-foot-4, 180 pounds but he plays like he’s 6-8, 225 pounds with the way he blocks shots and out-fights bigger men to rebounds.
Pick a stat. Any stat. You’ll find Drew’s fingerprints on all of them. His career is roughly just two and a half seasons old and he is already on the verge of joining the Pack’s Top Ten list for career assists, games played, steals and blocks. By the time he leaves Nevada he could become the first Pack point guard in history with more than 800 points, 700 rebounds, 500 assists, 200 steals and 100 blocks. It’s been that way ever since he slipped on a Wolf Pack uniform for his first game back on Nov. 13, 2015, when the Pack took on Coastal Carolina in Honolulu.
“He’s a triple-double threat every night,” Musselman said.
Drew has never had a triple double with the Pack. The closest he’s gotten was his freshman year against Colorado State when he had eight points, nine rebounds and eight assists or last year when he had 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists against Bradley. But there are times when it feels like he has hit triple figures in about five categories.
Leonardo Da Vinci has nothing on the Wolf Pack’s Renaissance Man with the floppy hair. Leonardo, after all, couldn’t hit a 3-pointer, find a teammate for an open shot and then scurry back to the other end of the court and block or rebound a shot all in the span of about 15 seconds. Lindsey Da Vinci does that almost every game.
A season-high crowd of 9,530 at Lawlor on Saturday saw the Pack’s Renaissance Man display all of his wonderful, wide-ranging skills and talents against the Lobos. Talk about a work of art. The stat sheet says Drew had 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal in 31 minutes. The numbers, though impressive, however, don’t do justice to Drew’s performance. But that is typical of Drew’s overlooked career at Nevada. That’s because using mere numbers to describe Drew’s value to the Wolf Pack is like trying to use mere words to describe jazz.
Drew drove the baseline past New Mexico’s Dane Kuiper and fed Jordan Caroline for a dunk for a 10-5 a little more than two minutes into the game. He penetrated the lane, dribbled between his legs near the free throw line as New Mexico’s Sam Longwood stood baffled, and then turned around and passed back out to Caroline for an open 3-pointer at the top of the circle for a 20-14 lead with 10:41 left in the opening half.
Less than a minute later Drew out-jumped New Mexico’s Joe Furstinger and Chris McNeal for a defensive rebound and then exploded up the court. When he got to the lane he switched the ball from his right hand to his left hand as he glided past Antino Jackson for a layup and a 22-14 lead. Late in the first half he dribbled aggressively into the lane, pulled up and hit a 10-foot jumper over Furstinger for a 38-26 lead.
Drew then found Caroline and Caleb Martin for open 3-pointers to open the second half. The assist to Martin saw Drew dribble through a double team near mid-court and somehow find Martin streaking down the middle of the court behind him. Late in the second half Drew, standing under the basket, rebounded a missed 3-pointer by teammate Kendall Stephens, rebounded his own missed layup and put back a short jumper for a 67-59 lead with 8:49 to go.
He then saved his most brilliant brush strokes for last.
With six minutes to play Drew drove the lane straight toward Furstinger who was waiting for him under the basket. Drew, holding the ball in his right hand, then turned his right shoulder to Furstinger to protect the ball with his back as he headed to the left side of the rim. With his head seemingly under the backboard, Drew somehow turned and dunked the ball with his right arm past Furstinger for a reverse layup and a 70-63 lead.
How’s that for explosive and dynamic?
“It’s (Drew’s offensive game) has been there since Day One,” said Pack forward Jordan Caroline, who knows a thing or two about exploding to the rim. “We see flashes of it all the time.”
With six minutes to go on Saturday, Drew flashed a lightning bolt from the heavens.
Musselman, for a brief moment, thought he was back watching a slam dunk contest with his old D-League, USBL and CBA teams. “That dunk was incredible,” Musselman said. “For the first time since I’ve been here I peaked up at the big (score) board to get a replay.”
Drew wasn’t finished. The Renaissance Man had just sculpted a magnificent statue with his thunderous dunk and now it was time to craft a beautiful painting with his brush to win the game.
New Mexico, trailing just 77-74 in the final seconds, still had a chance to send the game into overtime. The Lobos inbounded the ball with three seconds to play. Drew went over with teammate Cody Martin to double-team New Mexico’s Furstinger about a dozen feet from the basket. Somehow, some way, Drew noticed that McNeal was all alone in the right corner for a possible game-tying 3-ponter. He covered the dozen feet or so and arrived just as McNeal lifted off the ground. Drew blocked the shot out of bounds, saving the afternoon.
“It’s not often as a coach you think you’ll get a deflection on a shot,” Musselman said.
It’s not often a coach gets to coach a player like Drew. Tremendous skill, incredible work ethic, quiet, unassuming. A coach’s dream.
Former Wolf Pack guard Marqueze Coleman, a teammate of Drew’s two years ago, quickly understood Drew’s many talents. “He makes the right basketball play almost every time,” Coleman said early in Drew’s freshman year. That was a senior talking about a freshman.
Fairfax High’s Harvey Kitani, the coach who prepared Drew for the Wolf Pack, summed up Drew best when Drew was a high school senior. “He is truly a basketball player in every sense of the word,” Kitani told the Arizona Republic newspaper in December 2014, shortly after Drew verbally committed to Arizona State.
A basketball player in every sense of the word who makes the right basketball play almost every time. A coach’s fantasy.
Musselman, though, says Drew isn’t even aware of how special he can be on the court. At 6-4, Drew already has NBA size for a point guard. But when you factor in his nearly seven-foot wingspan, well, the young man seemingly can cover half the court at any given time.
“Lindsey’s length, ever since he was a freshman he’s been one of the best shot blocking guards in the conference, one of the best shot blocking guards in the country,” Musselman said. “He’s got great length. He’s tired of me telling him to ‘Get your arms out.’ I don’t think he understands how long he is at times.”
Drew will go down in Pack history because of his ability to share and protect the ball. He’s dished out assists to 17 different players in his Pack career, from Cam Oliver, Marcus Marshall, D.J. Fenner and Caleb Martin to Kaileb Rodriguez, Darien Williams and Hallice Cooke. His favorite target by far was Oliver (71 assists) but Caroline (42 buckets off Drew assists) still has a season and a half with the Renaissance Man. It didn’t take long for newcomers Kendall Stephens (16 baskets off Drew passes) and Caleb Martin (15) to take advantage of Drew’s unselfishness this year.
“He sees the floor so well,” Caroline said. “He’s such a great teammate, willing to get people involved.”
When you are as talented as Drew, though, it is never enough to be great in just one or two things. The Wolf Pack lately has asked Drew to score more points, realizing that sometimes the best passes are the ones that go through the hoop rather than to an open teammate. He has responded with 53 points over his last six games. That 8.8 scoring average is coming off a four-game stretch when he averaged a mere 3.0 points a game.
“I turned down a lot of shots,” Drew said. “I wasn’t aggressive.”
Musselman admitted he also might have been a little at fault for Drew’s shrinking offense last month. Drew missed all three of his shots against Texas Tech on Dec. 5 and scored just two points, both from the free throw line. That performance drew the wrath of Musselman.
“Lindsey took a couple shots against Tech that I wasn’t really happy with,” Musselman said.
He conveyed that unhappiness to Drew.
“Maybe I was too hard on him,” Musselman said.
Drew responded by not shooting a single shot or scoring a single point three days later near his hometown in Los Angeles in the next game against TCU. The Pack, not surprisingly, lost to both Texas Tech and TCU. It didn’t take long for Musselman to realize that if this Pack team is going to beat elite teams this year it needs to tap into Drew’s suppressed offensive skills.
“He has hit pull-up threes for us that have been daggers,” Musselman said. “Looking back, he’s made so many big shots for us at crucial situations. We need him to score.”
With Drew, all you have to do is ask. He was taught the game by his father Larry Drew, a 10-year NBA veteran player who has coached in the NBA for more than two decades (currently with the Cleveland Cavaliers). Lindsey Drew was raised to make a coach happy.
“I don’t want to turn down shots that are there,” Drew said. “I have to have that mindset and do everything else also.”
Some point guards can concentrate on passing the ball. Some can focus on scoring and finding their own shot. Some can work non-stop on their defense. Drew has to do it all because, well, he can. Just like a true Renaissance man, a basketball artist who can use any medium to create his art.
Like many great artists, though, Drew seems destined to only be fully appreciated after he leaves Nevada after next year. While some Pack players have been known to stomp all over the floor, yell at opponents and officials and wave their arms after bringing the crowd to its feet with a dunk, Drew just gets back on defense. When some players have been known to wave three fingers in the air, pound their chest and run down the middle of the court for all to see after hitting a 3-pointer, Drew just gets in the jersey of the man he has to defend.
Drew is not a look-at-me type of artist. In fact, the young man from Southern California with the floppy hair would simply prefer to not even sign his work. His satisfaction comes from simply creating a beautiful work of art for all to enjoy. His body language during a game is simple, unselfish and pure: Enjoy the art, not the artist.
That dunk with six minutes to go against New Mexico has been the exception during his 88-game career. Most of the time the things he does do not bring the crowd to its feet or make the head coach look at the replay.
The things he does simply help his team win.
“I just told him, ‘Do what you do,’” Jordan Caroline smiled.
He can do it all.