Now, Little might be ready to cede the center spotlight, at least for a while. Because at UNC, he found a fit where he wouldn’t immediately need to be the top dog.
“I think the environment here at UNC is a little bit different than most schools,” Little said in a preseason sit-down with NotedTV. “Seniority is really, they pride themselves on that here. I don’t think I’m really going to be in that kind of role where I'm leading the guys like that because we got three really good seniors and we got juniors out here. I think they’re going to take more of the leadership role.”
Instead, he will focus on adjusting to the college game. The McDonald's All-American Game MVP and Jordan Brand Classic co-MVP is notorious for finding ways to score in the paint, particularly when the 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward goes airborne for a dunk. Dunking is a skill that translates to college basketball.
But he has already impressed his coaches and teammates with his versatility in other phases of the game.
“Nas has actually surprised me a little bit, his ability to shoot,” senior guard Kenny Williams said. “He’s knocked down a good amount of threes in preseason practice.”
Roy Williams, addressing the team’s weakness on 3-point defense last season, said that Little had shown the ability to help on the defensive end as well.
“Nassir is so athletic that he can be really good as well and he works really hard,” Williams said.
In his first two games, Little has shown flashes of this. Against Wofford, he came off the bench to score 7 points on 3-5 shooting, adding two blocks and three assists to boot.
Against Elon, he helped lead an offensive barrage that saw UNC score the most points by a Tar Heel team in the Roy Williams era. No player scored more than Little, who tied Cameron Johnson with 21 points, and the first-year did so on 9-13 shooting. He also tied big man Garrison Brooks for a team-high five offensive rebounds. He tacked on three steals and a block on the defensive side, and did all of it in just 20 minutes of action.
On both sides of the floor, Little showed signs of finding a rhythm over the course of the two games.
His versatility extends off the court. He was a four-year All-A honor roll student at Orlando Christian Prep, and was the salutatorian of his senior class. Asked what he would do if he didn’t play basketball, Little said he would have filled all of those hours with reading.
“I feel like I would be a genius,” Little said in the NotedTV interview. “I think I'd be one of those people that would be in the books heavy.”
Little has also garnered attention in the past year for the rumors surrounding the pay-for-play scandal in college basketball. On October 15, texts released from the FBI investigation cleared Little’s name. As with his play on the court, Coach Williams highlighted how Little and his family do things the right way, and their claims of innocence were validated by the released texts.
“You’re talking about two military people, his parents,” Williams said. “They know some things that go on in the world. They’re very strong in their beliefs, they’re very strong in their morality.”
The praise from his coach and teammates suggests that Little could be poised to continue to ride the wave of hype he road into college.
Luckily for Little, he doesn’t necessarily have to. On a loaded team, he has time to learn and develop, and ultimately make a name for himself at one of the most storied basketball programs in the country.
@James_Tatter | @DTHSports