Harold Little didn’t hear Williams’ follow-up statements. He didn’t hear Williams’ explanation of why his son doesn’t play more, that he’s “trying to get him some more minutes,” or his praise of Nassir Little’s work ethic.
So, naturally, Harold Little was caught off guard by the comments. Though, he admits that after he watched the entire press conference online and gained context, it “made it make sense.”
The perception of some that UNC isn’t one-and-done friendly isn’t new. Some say Williams’ reliance on upperclassmen is why many five-stars instead choose to play for schools, like Duke or Kentucky, with a history of quickly sending players to the NBA.
Though Nassir Little’s heard the noise since committing to North Carolina in October 2017, he hasn’t spoken much about it publicly. But on Saturday — after a game in which he scored 10 points and shot 4 of 5 from the floor in 20 minutes — Nassir Little stood up for his head coach.
“He just wants to put me in a situation where I can be the best,” Nassir Little said. “Right now, we got two guys on the wing who are playing really good, who are experienced and playing really well. So, that’s what puts us in the best situation to help us win.”
Graduate guard Cameron Johnson and senior forward Luke Maye are ahead of Nassir Little on the depth chart. But a sequence in the final minutes of the first half against Davidson was a reminder of the impact Nassir Little could consistently have with more minutes.
With 3:26 to play until halftime, Nassir Little swatted away Davidson guard Carter Collins’ layup attempt. He then hustled back to the other side of the court to follow senior guard Kenny Williams’ missed 3-pointer for a two-handed put-back dunk that sparked a 12-2 run and allowed the Tar Heels to close the half with an 11-point lead.
Displays of athleticism like that, paired with a 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, have NBA scouts drooling.
When Nassir Little came to Chapel Hill, it was with a resume as loaded as that of any recruit in the Roy Williams era at UNC.
The Orange Park, Fla. native was the No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2018, according to 247 Sports. He and LeBron James are the only players to take home MVP honors in the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic.
However, this hasn’t granted him any guarantees from his head coach, and he knew it wouldn’t when he committed to UNC.
“If you come here, we’re going to coach you hard,” Williams told Little on his official visit. “We’re going to help you learn the game. And nothing is going to be given to you. There is no guarantee that you will be starting at Carolina.”
Harold Little says Williams has kept his word — he’s seen his son’s development. His performance on Saturday against Davidson was demonstrative of that.
A week after shooting just 2 of 8 for four points, two assists and one rebound against Kentucky, Nassir Little looked more comfortable on the court than he had in weeks.
This could be credited to a heart-to-heart conversation with Williams following UNC’s loss to Kentucky. When asked about the conversation, Nassir Little even had a word of advice for other athletes who may find themselves in slumps.
“If you’re ever going through something, it’s good to talk to your coaches,” Nassir Little said. “(I) just asked him what he wanted me to do and what he was looking for. We had a good conversation. And I’m just going to keep getting better.”
Unlike after the game against Kentucky, Nassir Little felt good about his performance against Davidson. He’s content with progressing at his own pace.
And for those who think Williams is hurting his draft stock by not playing him more?
“They don’t know what they’re talking about,” Nassir Little chuckled. “That’s it.”
Nassir Little expected a learning curve when he arrived at North Carolina, and though he didn’t know it’d be this steep, he hopes to continue to block out the noise to have more performances he’s proud of.
“With anything that you do that’s a grand undertaking, there are going to be ups and downs, and there are going to be challenges,” Harold Little said. “But I think he’s built for it. I think he’s going to be okay.”
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