On the afternoon of Feb. 8, Justin Drummond scored 12 points and dished off four assists as Toledo won at Ball State for the Rockets’ 20th victory of the season and their eighth in nine games.
Upon the team’s return to town several players went out to celebrate. Just before midnight, shortly after pulling his car out of the parking lot at a local restaurant-bar, Drummond was pulled over by police and charged with driving under the influence.
Coach Tod Kowalczyk suspended Drummond, at that time UT’s leading scorer, for one game, and in the four contests that followed, the 6-foot-4 junior guard twice fouled out, twice played 22 minutes or less, and three times failed to reach double figures in scoring.
In the fifth game, on Saturday night against Western Michigan, Drummond cut loose with a career-high 28 points, eight rebounds, and four assists and helped bring the Rockets and their season back from the brink — a 12-point deficit with little more than three minutes left in regulation — to a rather startling 96-85 overtime victory.
Afterwards, Kowalczyk and a couple teammates credited Drummond’s leadership, as much as his raw numbers, for keeping the Rockets focused and fighting.
“There are ups and downs in games; you have to stay together and keep fighting, keep hustling,” Drummond said afterward. “I’m proud of my guys. They expect me to lead them, so I had to bring energy.”
And the Rockets truly are Drummond’s guys. He is a team co-captain, which created something of a double-whammy when the DUI and suspension occurred. After all, it is hard to lead from behind.
“I certainly think Justin willed the team to keep competing and, eventually, to win during stretches of the game [Saturday] night,” Kowalczyk said.
Did it take a night like that to re-earn his teammates’ trust?
“He never lost it,” TK said bluntly. “I don’t think he had to earn anything back from his teammates. They know what kind of person he is and what he stands for. Now, maybe he had to earn it back from the community.
“Obviously, everybody was very disappointed in Justin; including Justin. I have so much respect for him. There’s no coaching manual in how you deal with this. So I’ve always thought you deal with it based on the individual.
“He’s been exemplary in all regards at the University of Toledo … great student, great teammate, and great leader. Unfortunately, he made a very poor choice. He was extremely embarrassed, as he should have been.”
If there was any doubt among his fellow Rockets, it disappeared Saturday night.
At halftime, with the chairs in the locker room formed into a semicircle, Drummond let everybody know just what he thought of the effort that resulted in a 45-33 halftime deficit.
“He wasn’t happy,” Kowalczyk said. “And it continued during timeouts. I do most of the talking then, but when I’m done Justin is always next. He talks about what we need to accomplish, usually on defense, getting stops and getting tough.”
On Saturday, Drummond was talking and the Rockets were again listening.
They were listening on the day after the DUI arrest too.
“He owned up to everything,” Kowalczyk said. “He was very remorseful. I didn’t make him address the team. He did it on his own, first thing.
“My point to him, from that day on, was that all great leaders make mistakes. It’s what you do after that determines your legacy.”
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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