Well Heeled

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Taft (Woodland Hills, Calif.) senior Larry Drew Jr. has grown up with basketball the way the Olsen twins grew up with TV.

When Drew was born on March 5, 1990, his father, Larry Sr., was playing for the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers alongside Magic Johnson and James Worthy. By the time Drew was old enough to play, his dad was an NBA assistant coach.

Needless to say, pro locker rooms became the youngster's personal playground. While other kids were going to summer camp, Drew would go to training camp, where his counselors were NBA greats like Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd.

That might be every kid's dream, but to Drew it was nothing unusual.

"I didn't think much of it," says Drew, whose dad now is an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks. "It was what I knew. I always expected to go in the locker room and hang around all the players."

All those experiences helped turn Drew into what he is today -- a 6-foot, 170-pound point guard who signed National Letter of Intent to attend North Carolina Wednesday.

As Drew started to get serious about playing ball, he realized just how lucky he was. Not only did he have a 10-year NBA veteran and longtime coach as a father, but he was able to see up close how much hard work it took to become a star.

Drew still remembers the day he decided he wanted to become an NBA player. While his family was dropping Larry Sr. off at the airport for another road trip, an 8-year-old Drew spotted Kobe. That's when something clicked.

"It was something about the way he carried himself," Drew says. "He already put in all the hard work and now it was paying off. I told myself, 'That's what I want to do.'"

Since then, Drew has gone all out in pursuit of his goal. When you combine his natural skills as a playmaker with his work ethic and firsthand advice from the pros, it's easy to see why he's considered one of the state's top playmakers.

Drew is the rarest of species among high-profile recruits: a pure point guard who prefers assists to baskets. His favorite NBA player might be Allen Iverson for entertainment purposes, but for education he loves catching Kidd, Steve Nash and Tony Parker on TV. Like that talented trio, Drew can score whenever he wants but would rather set up teammates for easy baskets.

Derrick Taylor, who has been head coach at Taft for the past eight years, sensed there was something special about Drew the first time he saw him play as a rising freshman.

"He was so slick for a young guy," says Taylor. "He had an uncanny feel for the game. He tried to make sure everyone got the ball, which is unusual for someone that young."

That can be traced directly to Drew's hoops background. Whether it was playing with his dad as a toddler or getting tips from Kidd on how to run the fast break, Drew has been immersed in basketball his whole life -- and it shows.

"In practice, he automatically knew not only what he was supposed to do but what everybody else was supposed to do," says Taylor. "That was a really big thing -- his ability to pick everything up right away."

After losing All-American point guard and current Lakers playmaker Jordan Farmar to UCLA following the 2003-04 season, Taylor called Drew up to varsity as a freshman in 2004-05.

The coach brought him along slowly, with Drew coming off the bench at first. But there was no denying his talent. By the City Section playoffs, Drew was Taft's leading scorer despite not starting.

Whenever Drew was in the game, the Toreadors took off and put Taylor's worries about life after Farmar to rest. "Once you have a good point guard who's pass first, everything works off that," Taylor says. "When I saw him, I was like, 'Wow, I hit the jackpot.' We were spoiled with having Jordan for three years, but Larry came along and now we've had seven years of outstanding point guards."

As a result, Taft has had tremendous success in the always-tough City Section. Last year's team went 20-4, though officially the record went down as 4-20 because the team used an illegal transfer. The violation kept the Toreadors out of the playoffs.

Though forfeiting 16 games was a tough way for Drew's season to end, it has only motivated him for his senior campaign. "We were so upset that the next day we were in the gym practicing at lunch, preparing for next year," Drew says. "We're so excited to start the season. I definitely want to win city and state."

For that to happen, Drew is going to have to be even better than he was last season when he averaged 14.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. After spending the offseason working hard on his game, there's no reason to think he won't.

"He has a great work ethic," Taylor says. "That's just who he is. Larry plays all the time and he'll play against anybody. He's just a basketball junkie who likes to play."

When his time at Taft is up, Drew will play for legendary coach Roy Williams at North Carolina. He committed toward the end of his junior year and couldn't be happier about the selection.

Committing early also meant Drew could turn his phone back on without being bombarded with the 40 or so text messages he was receiving from coaches every day. Of course, it's easy to see why Drew was so popular. "With his skill level, intelligence and competitiveness, there's no doubt in my mind he'll be successful at the next level," Taylor says. "I think one day he'll make a living playing basketball."

Just following in the family business.