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After his stunning midseason exit from North Carolina in February 2011, native Angeleno Larry Drew II returned home and tried to tune out the criticism directed at him in the press and social media. Drew, who quit the Tar Heels with little explanation, took four months off from basketball and spent time with friends and family. "I was just trying to clear my head," the point guard says. "I had a chance to get my mind right."
In the spring of 2011, Drew committed to UCLA, and after sitting out last season as a transfer, he'll be the Bruins' starter at the point on opening night. He's not the only player in Westwood looking for a fresh start this season. The Bruins, who played in other L.A. arenas last season while Pauley Pavilion was being renovated, are returning home after a year to forget: They lost five of their first seven games; star forward Reeves Nelson was kicked off the team after multiple suspensions; and the team finished 19--14, not enough for even an NIT invitation.
UCLA, however, owned the off-season, pulling in the country's No. 1 recruiting class, headlined by top recruit Shabazz Muhammad, a 6'6" wing, and 6'9" point forward Kyle Anderson. Coach Ben Howland plans to pair Anderson with Drew in a faster-paced offense in which twin brothers David and Travis Wear, both of whom transferred from UNC in 2010, will also be prominent. "With [Drew and Anderson], you have two really good facilitators," says Howland, who pushed an up-tempo attack during an exhibition trip to China in August. "Guys were really unselfish. It was contagious."
Missing from the China trip was Muhammad, who stayed behind due to an ongoing NCAA investigation into his relationship with a financial adviser. He's also nursing a strained shoulder. The Bruins are stocked with new talent and are on their home floor, but the loss of their stud freshman could mean a longer wait to get back to where they truly want to be.
ROUND OF 32