DTH: You take pride in your shooting and you take pride in your defense. Can you just talk to me about that a little bit?
NL: Most people know I’m a really good athlete. I jump high, I jump out the gym. But to try to separate myself I feel like you add a skill to your game, hitting shots and things like that, creates a different level and makes you a better player. And also defensively if you have a motor, not just on defense, but diving on the floor, and just trying to rebound and things like that. You add things like that to a guy who has talent and skill and I think you have a dangerous player on your team.
DTH: Do you feel like those things have always been huge tenets of your game, or is this stuff that you sort of picked up after the athleticism got there?
NL: I’ve been athletic my whole life. I was young and dunking, I’ve just always kind of been athletic. Naturally, I’ve always been talented, like, I could always shoot, but it just took some refining and constant working and getting better at and perfecting it, and over time as I learned the game I just improved.
DTH: I think something that was really cool to look at was that pinned tweet when you committed and you had that conversation with your dad. Can you walk me through what you're feeling because I know he grew up a UNC fan, so what was that like to be able to share that with him?
NL: During the time of my commitment it was the FBI trial and you know a lot of the stuff was like going around and it was kind of rough, so the initial part where a lot of talk was going around and I was just kind of saying, like, you know regardless of what people were saying, I just gotta do what I do. To commit to Chapel Hill was kind of surreal for my entire family because we were always, all of us were Chapel Hill fans, and even to this day I look at the picture of me in the jersey on the court and its, ‘Wow, people are probably looking at me the same way I looked at the guys before me,’ so its good to be a part of this family.
DTH: You won the McDonald's MVP. We've got other former Tar Heels who won it. So J.R. Reid, Jerry Stackhouse, Harrison Barnes, James Michael McAdoo. These guys all played in the NBA. So what does that mean for you to be on that list?
NL: That’s a list of good company, and I think hopefully as long as I just stay humble and keep doing what I do I can also make it to that level.
DTH: Both your parents have military backgrounds. How did that sort of help you in staying disciplined because I know you're not just a great basketball player, you're a great student. You were the salutatorian of your high school, so how did they help you with that?
NL: Growing up, I feel like, they did a lot of work as a child. They’re not really strict. People think, ‘You have military parents and they’re like sit up straight all the time,’ for me it wasn’t really like that it was just kind of like, just being courteous and being conscious and as I got older in middle school, I had a rough year academically. But my parents were never the type to like, get mad at me about it because it wasn’t nothing that they taught me, like it’s not their grades, so I looked at myself in the mirror and I guess it’s just something in me, and I looked at myself and I said, ‘I want to do better.’ So I told myself that I’m going to do good for the rest of my high school, middle school, whatever career. Ever since that year, I started grinding, doing better in the classroom and I’ve been good ever since.
DTH: You guys obviously played the pickup games with the alumni over the summer, you talked a little bit about Raymond Felton. What kind of things do you feel like you learned from playing with him and those other pro players?
NL: Looking at myself, it gave me kind of confidence because I match up with these guys well. You look at me, you look at them, I felt like you don’t really see a lack of talent and it gave me confidence learning that I can play with these guys. I also learned I have a lot to learn. They know how to just play basketball, move without the ball, know little things that they know I don’t know, so they just use it against me. But they just told me to keep doing what I’m doing and I’ll be successful.
DTH: You are such a young guy. You have a ton of room to grow too, so five years down the line, what are the expectations you have for yourself?
NL: Five years from now I want to be in the NBA. I don’t want to just be in there and just get drafted. I want to be a good player in the NBA and be dominant and be a force in the league. I just gotta keep doing what I’m doing.
DTH: Is there someone that you sort of model your game after?
NL: I like to look at Kawhi Leonard, Jayson Tatum, Paul George, James Harden, those kind of guys. I just like the way they play basketball.
DTH: First time you step on the Smith Center floor, during that regular season game, what’s going through your head?
NL: It’s a lot going on. You just know that everybody is watching and you know you’re on television and you know people back home are watching you and you’re excited, but you gotta manage it and you just want to go crazy but you also have to stay disciplined because you’re in the game. Coach isn’t worried about that. He’s worried about how we’re playing as a team, so that was a lot of emotions that you gotta balance out. So it’s hard, but you just get lost in the game and kind of settle down.
@DTHSports | firstname.lastname@example.org