Head coach Hubert Davis isn’t surprised that graduate transfer big man Pete Nance is already fitting in at UNC — he’s still shocked that he’s at North Carolina at all.
“From a basketball standpoint I haven’t been surprised at all,” Davis said at a press conference on Oct. 27. “He’s an accomplished player, he had an unbelievable career at Northwestern for four years… I’m surprised he’s with us and he’s not in the NBA.”
Nance’s abilities as a stretch four perfectly fit the NBA’s mold of a mobile big with capabilities on both sides of the floor. The graduate has already had a successful tenure at Northwestern, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors and leading the Wildcats in scoring, rebounding, 3-point percentage and blocks this past season. He also comes from a lineage of professional players — his father Larry played 13 seasons split between the Cavaliers and the Suns, while his older brother Larry Jr. is a power forward for the Pelicans. Nance himself declared for the NBA draft before eventually pulling out of draft consideration ahead of the June 1 deadline.
So why is Nance in Chapel Hill? In his own words, it’s to get UNC over the hump. After watching the Tar Heels’ tournament run last year, Nance said he “knows what this team is capable of”. Now, the Wildcat-turned-Tar Heel is looking to fill whatever role is needed to finish the job this year.
“Honestly, I genuinely feel this way, whatever I’m needed to do during a game, I will try and do it,” Nance said at that Oct. 27 presser. “If we need to defend, if we need to facilitate more, if we are in a dry scoring spell, I can be that guy.”
Davis and Nance’s teammates will be quick to tell you that Nance isn’t the new Brady Manek — and they’re right.
Manek had one of the most prolific 3-point shooting seasons in North Carolina history, coming second in the ACC in 3-point percentage. While Nance shot over 45 percent from behind the arc last season, Manek drained more threes at UNC than Nance even attempted last season.
However, Davis admitted that Nance had reminded him of Manek due to how quickly he’s found his fit on the team.
“He’s only been here (for) three and a half months, and it feels like he’s been here for four years,” Davis said. “The relationships that he has with the coaches and his teammates, it’s been seamless.”
Before he had ever hit the court donning a Carolina blue uniform, Davis already had a “great idea” of how Nance was going to compliment his teammates — specifically senior forward Armando Bacot.
“I love the way that they work together,” Davis said ahead of the team's exhibition against Johnson C. Smith. “Their skills compliment each other. They enjoy being on the floor together. It just works.”
Aside from their offensive cohesion, Nance will be a much-needed partner in the post for Bacot, which will be especially important in the postseason. Bacot had to play through an ankle injury late in the 2022 NCAA Tournament and put UNC in a precarious position after fouling out in its Final Four matchup against Duke.
“He can really score the ball,” Bacot said at the 2022 ACC Basketball Tipoff. “What he brings to the table is a lot different than what we had last year because he can play the four and the five. So if I get in foul trouble or whatever, it just allows him to be able to come in.”
Nance will also look to bolster UNC’s defensive presence under the basket. Standing at 6-foot-11, Nance used his athleticism and 7-foot wingspan to register a team-high and career-high 34 blocks as a Wildcat last season. The Akron, Ohio native matched up against some true towers in the Big Ten, from Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn to Purdue’s Zach Edey. While he likely won’t be facing similar matchups this year at the four position, Nance can drop down to support Bacot when needed.
While Nance can play the five, the proposition of expanding his game past the center position is something he's looking forward to as he prepares to enter the NBA Draft next year. In the meantime, Nance will take on a starting role on a preseason No. 1 team with national championship aspirations as a player who has never played once in the NCAA Tournament.
So while Davis may be surprised that Nance hasn’t already taken his talents to the NBA, the graduate transfer himself would tell you he stumbled upon a pretty sweet deal.
“Only being able to spend one year somewhere, I think this meets all those thresholds and I couldn’t have picked a better spot,” Nance said.
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