ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Growing up in Ohio with the name Larry Nance, you’d think the path to basketball stardom was well paved.
But for emerging University of Wyoming junior forward Larry Nance Jr. the namesake son of the former NBA All Star and first NBA Slam Dunk competition winner, high-major college recruiters weren’t exactly banging on his door.
“As far as stars next to the name, I wasn’t even on the websites,” Nance Jr. said of the major basketball recruiting websites. “I didn’t have a star. I wasn’t anything.”
Ohio connections to Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt and associate head coach Scott Duncan, both former University of New Mexico assistants and Cleveland natives, got the lanky Nance on the recruiting radar three years ago.
After a visit to Laramie, Wyo., and with only a few Mid-American Conference schools showing interest after his standout prep career at Akron’s Revere High, the young Nance decided it was time to go West and make a name for himself in the Mountain West.
The steady progression of the 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward has started turning heads in his third season. Tonight he leads the Cowboys into the Pit against the New Mexico Lobos.
Nance Jr.’s scoring average has jumped from 4.1 points per game as a freshman to 10.7 as a sophomore and to 16.2 this season to go along with 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He’s also the unquestioned leader of the Cowboys and a contender for first-team All-MWC honors.
“I think the one thing that Larry is doing is he is playing with a lot more confidence and assertiveness,” Wyoming assistant Jeremy Shyatt said Monday. “I think last year he took a back seat from a leadership standpoint to Leonard Washington. This year I think he’s really stepping into his own.”
Nance Jr.’s defensive prowess has come on as of late. Through eight league games, he’s third in blocked shots (2.9 per game after averaging 1.5 in 12 nonconference games) and third in steals (1.8).
“I think we always knew that Larry had the potential because of his length to get his hands on deflections and make an impact,” Jeremy Shyatt said, “but I think the way you get some of those hustle stats is when you play more assertive.”
Nance Jr. agrees his game has grown thanks to offseason work on the court and off.
“The coaches worked a lot on my mindset,” Nance Jr. said. “Last year I would get down on myself a little bit, and this year they kind of try to reprogram me and say I can’t do that. … On to the next play.”
UNM head coach Craig Neal, who spent a training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1990 with Larry Nance Sr., said he’s not surprised with the player he sees now.
“Larry (Sr.) is a great guy,” Neal said. “He was an unbelievable player and he’s a great, great person. It’s definitely showed with how his son’s matured and done well because Larry (Sr.) is one of the best.”
The younger Nance, who talks with his dad two or three times a day by telephone, is developing into quite the player himself.
But can the son dunk like his old man?
“He likes to say no,” Nance Jr. said. “I like to say yes. I don’t know. Until I’m the NBA slam-dunk champion, I guess he’s got some leverage on me.”
And until that happens, Nance Jr. says he’s more than happy to continue tying to build a league title contender in Laramie while embracing the pressures that come with carrying such a well-known basketball name.
“It’s a great name to have,” Nance Jr. said. “I’ve never heard anybody with a bad thing to say about my dad. But it is kind of cool growing away from his spotlight and kind of forming one of my own.”