Pete Nance from North Carolina tries it big

What’s new in the life of former Northwestern forward Pete Nance?

Not much, other than rising from the bottom of the Big Ten to the top of the college basketball world. That would be North Carolina, folks. Chapel Hill. Home of the Tar Heels, ranked #1 nationwide ahead of the start of the season.

Very little, other than filling the only available seed for last season’s national runner-up. Nance walks in the shoes of Brady Manek, the wild-haired NCAA tournament star who, at the end of an unforgettable run, was by far the most recognizable of all of UNC’s great players.

There’s really nothing to see here, save for the 6-10 Nance, who used an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic and from shooting his three-pointers in a quiet 7,000-seat Welsh Ryan arena to performing in front of a roaring 21,000-plus in Smith Center. Aside from going from a Northwestern team that got little attention in its own backyard to a UNC team that was absolutely obsessed across the state. Who do North Carolinians love more than the tar heels? Absolutely no one baby

“You can definitely tell it’s a bigger stage,” Nance said, “but I’m just trying to stick to my game and focus on what I have to do every day.”

Nance was once the highest ranking recruit in Northwest history. He committed to the NCAA tournament in 2017, just months after the Wildcats’ long-awaited breakthrough. Why did he go there instead of the state of Ohio? Instead of Michigan? He liked the people of Evanston, sure, but he also thought the Wildcats would win.

“Oh sure,” he said, “a program that was really taking off.”

Northwest towards Michigan

Pete Nance in his Northwest days.

Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

But there was no winning. Northwestern’s records since their Big Dance appearance stand out like a handful of sore thumbs: 15-17, 13-19, 8-22, 9-15, and 15-16. Nance got through the last four of those seasons – happily, as he pointed out in a post-training phone call on Tuesday – as any positive momentum under coach Chris Collins faded.

“It was tough,” Nance said, “but I felt we did a really good job of never giving up. We played really well, played a lot of tight games. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. There is nothing I would change about those four years.”

Spring …

“Of course I would have wished we could have clinched a few more wins.”

Hey, that’s what here and now are for. Nance and his new team are in one of the highest profile games of the early season Wednesday in Indiana, the ACC favorites and the Big Ten colliding at the heart of the final ACC/Big Ten Challenge. (Another Northwestern transfer, Ryan Young, is getting good minutes at Duke, which hosts Ohio State.)

The always captivating annual clash of conferences is coming to an end, but not before Nance gets a taste of the best part of it. Northwestern’s 87-58 loss to Pittsburgh on Monday went largely unrecorded, but Heels-Hoosiers is a blockbuster – one of many that Nance is sure to be a part of.

“It’s been a great experience,” he said, “just being a part of this program, just being there and realizing why it’s so successful the way it is.”

What a joy, also for the Larrys. Larry Nance, Pete’s father, was a three-time NBA All-Star. Larry Nance Jr., Pete’s brother, has more than seven seasons – not to mention around $50 million – under his own fine NBA career. Is Pete on a similar track? It’s a bit early to say. He’s still in college after testing the deep water during the offseason, but now blue blood runs through his veins and the whole family loves it.

Also, Pete is Pete. However it shakes, that will be good enough.

“When I was younger, I definitely felt pressure [to be] just as good, if not better, than they were,” he said. “Growing up my whole life, everyone knew who I was. Everyone haunted me from a young age and was excited to play Larry Nance’s son and Larry Nance Jr’s brother.

“But as I got older and grew into myself and my own game, they just supported me to be myself and to race my own and have my own journey. They were very happy for me, proud of me.”

In a game last week against Portland on the home court of the Trail Blazers — Larry Jr.’s former team — the little brother played 35 minutes and posted a career-high 28 points. The Heels were four points behind with six minutes to go, but a 14-3 run, marked in part by a 6-10 rookie, put them over the top.

“He’s such a nice kid and he wants to belong,” coach Hubert Davis said afterwards. “I try to tell him, ‘You fit in so well, you’re a guy. Don’t worry about being the new one on the block. We didn’t recruit you to roleplay. We recruited you to be what you did today.” ”

The past four seasons are in review. It’s here and it’s now for Nance, and there’s nothing more here and now in all of college basketball than the tar heels. When he sinks, when he swims, when he shines – whatever happens, it’s his time. And that’s a beautiful thing.

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