CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Larry Drew II stunned North Carolina coach Roy Williams and his Tar Heels teammates with his abrupt departure from the program.
In a statement issued Friday by the school, the junior point guard said he was leaving because "it's in my best interest to continue my education and basketball career elsewhere."
The announcement came just four games after Drew lost his starting job to freshman Kendall Marshall. And it caught the No. 23 Tar Heels by surprise just before a tough stretch of games that includes next week's game at reigning national champion Duke.
Williams said Drew's father — Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew — informed him of his son's decision to leave in a phone call Friday morning. Williams said he was "shocked" by the news.
"Basically there was no arbitrating, there was not trying to see if we could rectify anything," Williams said during a news conference Friday afternoon. "That was the decision that was made and he thought it was in Larry's best interest."
The Hawks coach said while he made the call, he was just relaying his son's wishes.
"He made the decision. I did speak to coach Williams," Larry Drew said. "I thought it was important we did it in a very tasteful manner and we did that. My son issued the statement and it came from him. He clearly stated that his family has his support."
In his statement, Drew said: "It is unfortunate my career didn't meet expectations in Chapel Hill. However I do look forward to continuing my collegiate and athletic career in the near future."
On Drew's Twitter feed, an entry was posted Friday morning that read, "they say don't ask permission just ask forgiveness, you know?.. so.. forgive me." The post was later deleted.
The news of Drew's withdrawal from UNC was first reported by ESPN.
Drew was the target of fan frustration during a 17-loss season last year and had struggled since taking the reins of the Tar Heels offense from Ty Lawson after the 2009 NCAA championship. However, he seemed to handle his recent demotion from the starting lineup well — even playing some of the best basketball of his UNC career. He had 19 assists with four turnovers in the four games while drawing praise from Williams for his perimeter defense.
Williams had played Drew alongside Marshall in stretches for the Tar Heels (16-5, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). North Carolina has climbed back near the top of the league with the Blue Devils (20-2, 7-1) by winning nine of 10 games — including all four since Marshall became the starter.
By leaving in the middle of the semester, Drew will have only one year of eligibility remaining if he transfers to another Division I program and would also have to sit out next season.
His father said the decision was not made spur of the moment.
"This was a decision that was made long before actually this season even started, to be perfectly honest," Larry Drew said. "We've been contemplating this for a while and sometimes things comes to a point where a decision has to be made and we felt it got to that point."
Williams said he had conversations with the Drews after last season. Publicly, the relationship seemed fine. In May, Drew even stressed he wasn't looking to leave North Carolina. Drew — who started 36 games last year and was second in the ACC at about six assists per game — issued a statement to "again confirm that I am not transferring anywhere."
His teammates said he gave no recent indications of being unhappy. Junior Tyler Zeller, a member of Drew's recruiting class, said Drew practiced Thursday and hung around the locker room afterward with his teammates as if everything was normal.
Zeller first heard the news in a text message Friday from a friend asking if it was true. He called team video coordinator Eric Hoots, who told him Drew was in fact leaving.
Zeller said he wasn't angry, but said Drew "left us kind of a little stranded."
"It's disturbing and we're probably a little disappointed in him, but it's definitely not like we're mad at him or anything like that," Zeller said. "It's his decision and we're fine with it."
Marshall, who took over as starter after an ugly 20-point loss at Georgia Tech, said he learned of the news on Facebook.
"My initial thought was, 'I'm not going to sit here and lie to myself and say it doesn't hurt,'" Marshall said. "He's a part of our team. But at the end of the day, this is who we have — 15 of us. We've just got to learn to get it done."
Drew's departure leaves sophomore Dexter Strickland, who saw time at the point last year, to take on more ball-handling responsibilities behind Marshall.
Williams said it was a "major blow" to lose Drew, who was averaging 4.4 points and 3.9 assists as a junior.
"You guys have heard me and I have said on record that he was unfairly maligned or criticized for last year," Williams said. "I've said many times he didn't have Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green to throw the ball to like Ty did, and I believe that and I'll say that to the day I go down."
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.