One of the first voices Dylan Andrews hears every morning belongs to his godmother.
At 7:45 a.m., barring the rare idle weekend with no game or big homework assignment that needs completing, she will call the UCLA point guard to deliver the same message.
It is time to move through the day with a purpose. The purpose starts now.
They’re the same sorts of words Andrews once heard from “Pops,” the man no single word or phrase could encapsulate.
He was a father figure. Role model. Mentor. Confidant. Best friend.
“That was my like everything, man,” Andrews said.
Pops drove Andrews to the gym three hours before youth basketball practices, telling him if he was on time it meant he was late. Pops took him to the apartment complexes he owned, showing the boy how good he had it by comparison. Pops was even there when the teenager who was technically his grandson took his official visit to UCLA, oohing and aahing at every Bruins legend adorning the walls.
“He was more excited than me,” Andrews said with a laugh, “and I was excited. It looked like he was on the official visit.”
Pops never got to see him play in a college game, or even a practice. With his prostate cancer headed toward its inevitable conclusion, Jimmy Andrews spent as much time as he could in his final months with Dylan. They talked about what it meant to be a man and the need to push on in life, no matter what happened.
Even now, in every game day during a season firmly on the upswing, they still talk. As he prays during the national anthem, Dylan speaks to Pops.
“I love that man,” Dylan said, “and miss him so much.”
Growing up, Andrews always heard his mother talk about her dad doing one thing or another. Since the boy didn’t have his own father around, he adopted the same name for his grandfather, calling him “Dad” until it evolved into Pops.
Pops doted on another kid from his Gardena neighborhood, admiring Breeze McDonald for her determination in becoming the first member of her family to graduate from college. He became her godfather before she served in a similar capacity for Andrews, keeping him on a schedule and making sure he was staying on track at Windward High in Los Angeles.
The budding basketball star rotated between three homes, each supplying its own brand of comfort. His mother provided guidance, his grandparents nurturing and his godmother the organizational skills that came with her job as a longtime educator.
“Oh, man, it was a difficult schedule, we were all tired,” McDonald said, “but we all had a goal — you know, he’s from Gardena and going to school all the way over there in West L.A., it was the best move for him, a change in environment and the best move to put him on a path to UCLA.”
While Pops filled the void of Andrews’ father, McDonald became his first basketball coach. She had played the sport at Long Beach State and Cal State San Bernardino before an Achilles injury ended her brief professional career.
McDonald developed the little speed demon, helping him go from a 7-year-old who could barely shoot or dribble to a major college prospect under her guidance with the Compton Magic club team. Along the way, she kept close tabs on his stretching, mobility and recovery, even enrolling him in cryotherapy to maximize his potential.
All that extra work paid handsome dividends. Before the end of his high school career, Andrews was known for particle-accelerator speed that made him a one-man press break.
“Usually when you put the ball in a kid’s hands it slows them down a little bit,” said Colin Pfaff, Dylan’s coach at Windward for three seasons before he transferred to AZ Compass in Chandler, Ariz., for his final year of high school. “For whatever reason, he gets faster. The kid was lightning in a bottle with a basketball.”
His relentlessness defensively and in probing offenses for an opening came from Pops, who taught him to never give up in any situation.
“When it gets hard I’ve asked him, ‘Do you want to quit?’ ” McDonald said, “and he would say, ‘Quit? We’re almost there. I’m not quitting.’ ”
The day he died in hospice care, on Aug. 31, 2022, Pops held on until Andrews got to the house, the last one in the family to arrive. Everyone else cleared out of the room so that the two could be alone. As Andrews held his hand, Pops delivered one final message.
“You’ve got to keep going,” he told him. “Times are going to be hard, but it’s not going to storm forever.”
Sensing that the family patriarch had taken his last breath, Andrews called everyone else back into the room.
Pops was gone.
The place that had brought him so much joy no longer felt like a refuge.
Andrews went back to the gym, hoping to clear his head, only to find it swimming with uncontrollable anguish. UCLA teammates David Singleton and Tyger Campbell were among those who provided comfort with their words and their presence.
But there’s really only so much anyone can say or do whenever someone loses someone so close to them.
“People try to push you through it, like you’ve just got to get going, like this is your life,” McDonald said, “but you’ve lost a whole part of your life, so it took him a minute, yeah. I saw it because I know him, I saw it on the court, I saw it in his focus, it would show up in different odd places, and I had to remind everybody around him that he lost somebody big.”
Andrews played sparingly as Campbell’s backup as a freshman, logging as much or more time at shooting guard as at point guard. He earned immediate praise from UCLA coach Mick Cronin, who called him the fastest player with the ball in his hands that he had ever coached, and flashed that speed with a steal and breakaway dunk during a road victory over Arizona State.
Pops never strayed from his mind. After the Bruins edged Northwestern to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, Andrews posted a photo of himself taking a jumper in the game alongside the hashtag #RIHPOPS — Rest In Heaven Pops.
Just as he started to work through the loss of Pops, a new set of challenges arose.
Andrews was suddenly in charge of running the Bruins as the primary point guard as part of an exceedingly young cast of teammates. It was a challenge not only for the sophomore but also for the coach who needed to put him in the best spots to succeed while sustaining his confidence.
“He’s just a conscientious kid, he wants to do well, he wants to please me,” Cronin said before the season, “but I can’t have the same expectations for him as I did for Tyger. He’s younger and he’s got different strengths, so I’ve got to make sure I play to his strengths and he’s got to go for it with his strengths. He can’t try to be Tyger.”
For two months, as one UCLA loss followed another, fans openly wondered on message boards what those strengths were besides lockdown defense. What was Cronin thinking in turning over the team to this guy? Was he even really a point guard?
Among other things, Andrews struggled to initiate the offense with purposeful passes and missed shot after shot. He seemed hesitant, off. Persistent cramps also forced him to sit out the final minutes of a few games that the Bruins went on to lose.
But inspiration was only a glance away. Sitting in the second row across from UCLA’s bench at every home game were McDonald and Kimberly Andrews, Dylan’s mother. Kimberly’s pep talks always resonated because she knew exactly what to say whenever her son felt overwhelmed or disappointed.
Dylan also called his grandmother, Cynthia, before every game so that she could remind him that he had already put in the work; now he just needed to go out there and put everything together to receive the payoff.
Pops played a part too, his stick-with-it mantra buoying Dylan through every tough stretch. Those seem to be receding with every pass he makes and shot he takes as part of a stunning late-season turnaround in which the Bruins (11-11 overall, 6-5 Pac-12) have won five of their last six games to move back into contention for the conference title.
Over Andrews’ last three games — all UCLA victories — he has averaged a team-leading 19.7 points and 4.7 assists to go with just 1.3 turnovers per game while shooting 51.2% and making eight of 12 three-pointers (66.7%). He has also shut down some of the conference’s top scorers, holding USC’s Boogie Ellis to eight points, Arizona’s Caleb Love to five-for-16 shooting and Oregon’s Jackson Shelstad to 10 points.
“Just being more confident on the court, really just letting the game align,” Andrews said of a transformation that has included a cramps treatment plan. “My teammates trust me, my coaches trust me. I feel like confidence has been a big part of the way I’ve been playing.”
McDonald credited Cronin for pushing and prodding Andrews, asking why he committed certain turnovers or failed to get a deflection when the opportunity arose, all with his development in mind.
Win or lose, Andrews spends as many late nights as he can getting shots up inside the team’s practice facility, mimicking game situations such as pick-and-rolls and catch-and-shoots. Like Pops said, he has to keep pushing no matter what, a lifetime of opportunity ahead.
‘Everything I do,” Andrews said, “is for him.”