Larry Drew II (right) goofs for the camera during a preseason photo op with Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland

Just when you thought Carolina basketball had resumed its normal, exemplary course. The Tar Heels, enjoying their best sustained stretch during the past two seasons, will finish the year without junior point guard Larry Drew, who left the team and university to pursue other opportunities.

How does this make sense? It doesn’t. Don’t bother doing the mental gymnastics: Drew threw away the remainder of his junior year—because he played in games this semester, he’ll have only one year at his new (as yet undetermined) school—evidently out of spite. Literally, he gains nothing from a basketball perspective by leaving at this time.

Drew started last season and through the first half of this year, but Roy Williams demoted him in favor of freshman Kendall Marshall after UNC’s disastrous loss at Georgia Tech last month. And yet, Drew recently had performed well in his backup role while still receiving ample playing time. He finished with nine assists and only one turnover in Carolina’s blowout victory at Boston College this past Tuesday.

In Friday afternoon’s press conference, Williams said he was “shocked and disappointed” by Drew’s decision and that he learned of the move this morning from Larry Drew Sr., who also is head coach of the Atlanta Hawks.

Various Twitter messages on Friday morning expressed the players’ amazement at what had transpired:

Dexter Strickland: “Speechless!”

Leslie McDonald: “Wow, what the hell is going on?”

National writers processed the news and responded with sharpened knives. Barring health concerns or other factors, bolting a team at mid-season is considered extremely poor form for any athlete.

The UNC sports information department issued its release with this statement from Drew:

“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.”

Drew’s exit marks the third Tar Heel transfer—in addition to twins David and Travis Wear—since last spring, and all three players hail from southern California. Not only that, transfer Alex Stepheson (finishing his career at USC) is another Cali kid who exited Chapel Hill prematurely.

The short-term ramifications for Carolina mostly involve sophomore guard Dexter Strickland, who now will play backup minutes at point guard in addition to his duties as a wing starter. Strickland spent time at point guard last season but, like Drew, struggled with his ball-handling and shooting.

From the fan base’s perspective, Drew was one of the most controversial players in recent memory. Though the ill-fated 2009-10 Heels had numerous culprits, it was Drew who absorbed the heaviest criticism. Some of that flak no doubt owed to his role as the point guard, but others noted his seemingly distant persona and negative body language.

Carolina’s first post-Drew test occurs on Sunday at home against rugged Florida State. To view today’s press release that includes statements by Williams and Drew, click here.