By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Pete Nance brings a versatile talent set to Carolina for his fifth college season but also a quality that his numbers can’t convey: a high basketball IQ.
His new Tar Heels teammates were happy to convey that after seeing him in pickup games and practices in the Smith Center in the last month.
“His knowledge, his IQ, the way he’s communicating with us has been tremendous,” R.J. Davis said of Nance, who averaged 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season for Northwestern while making 34.9% of his 3-point attempts.
Leaky Black said that Nance’s knowledge of the game is what jumped out to him the most.
“He has stuff you can’t really teach,” Black said. “You’ve got to see it to understand. I’m not saying he’s LeBron James. He’s up there trying to quarterback it. He knows angles, he knows just little stuff like that. He’s just a big-time player.”
Davis says it’s been common this summer for Nance to call for a stagger screen for Caleb Love or a pick-and-roll for another player, something that is more common for a guard.
“He’s been doing a great job,” Davis said. “He’s learned a lot from me and I’m learning a lot from him. Great communicator. With his athleticism, I’m thinking he’ll be a pretty great defender. Pete can definitely pass the ball. There have been times where we do a little split action, he’s able to make the pass between two defenders, a bounce pass, or see the action and see the opposite side.”
At Northwestern, the 6–10, 225-pound Nance didn’t have the luxury of playing alongside Armando Bacot, who will likely be the preseason ACC Player of the Year. Nance might not have to battle one-on-one with big guys in the ACC like last year when he faced Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson.
“It’s a huge luxury to him and will allow him to be able to take a little breather and focus more offensively, being a playmaker and doing those things,” Bacot said. “He’s got an opportunity to be a really, really, really big-time player.”
After playing four years at Northwestern and never making it to an NCAA tournament or even having a winning season, his outlook on next season will be unlike any he’s had during his college career.
“It’s been awesome,” said Nance, who committed to UNC last month after pulling his name from the NBA draft process. “Just really happy to be here. It’s great to be around the guys, get to know everybody, be around the coaches and experience Carolina basketball. It’s really been awesome.”
Knowing the NBA style Coach Hubert Davis employs and watching the Tar Heels’ run to the Final Four last season made picking Carolina an easy decision.
“I think obviously being able to compete for a national championship is something that he didn’t really have to pitch me on very much because it’s pretty obvious that this team is pretty special,” Nance said. “So, I think just a combination of the two, being able to have a good chance to play in the NBA just like the rest of us are trying to do and combine that with competing at the highest level, I think, is a match made in heaven.”
Nance said that despite his Northwestern coach being former Duke player Chris Collins, he never considered the Blue Devils.
Before Nance had even spoken to UNC about possibly transferring, he talked to Brady Manek at the NBA G League Elite Camp in Chicago about his season in Chapel Hill.
“He said it was the best basketball experience of his life which, only being here one year, I thought was something just really cool at the time,” Nance said. “Obviously, I was really focused on the draft and everything. But for him to say that after just being here for one year, I thought it said a lot about North Carolina and the kind of people that they have here for sure.”
It also helped to see a player who is a good perimeter shooter flourish in UNC’s system.
“I think you can kind of see that mold,” Nance said. “A lot of the times it’s a mystery as to what you’re stepping into, but as far as seeing what Brady did and kind of the hole that he left, I think it’s kind of an easy thing to see that they need someone to step into that.”
Given Manek’s success last season in his fifth college season, there will be a lot of expectations put on the Northwestern transfer to replicate the performance of the Oklahoma transfer.
Nance knew that storyline would develop when he decided to play for Coach Davis.
“Yeah, for sure,” Nance said. “Obviously, there’s going to be pressure, but we all kind of deal with pressure our whole life. It just comes down to the preparation that you put in. I think I’m gonna work as hard as I can over the next four months, all the way up until the season starts. And I have to live with those results, but I feel pretty good about it. I’m just excited to get going.”
Given that Nance will slide into the same four spot in which Manek excelled, fans may think he’ll be the same sort of player. Coach Davis made it clear that he knows they are different players and told Nance that he didn’t want him to be Brady Manek but to be Pete Nance.
“I really appreciated it,” Nance said. “For the run he had and how well he played all year, I would think he would want somebody to play as close as they can to that. But it was pretty cool that [Coach Davis] said, ‘I want you to come here and be yourself.’ Obviously, we’re not the same player. So I think that’s going to be the difference as far as play style and just the difference in style for sure.”
Nance was asked to give a self-scouting report and his answer should have Tar Heels fans excited.
“I’m kind of somebody that can do a little bit of everything, I feel like,” Nance said. “Shoot, pass, dribble. I kind of try to pride myself on being versatile and try not to have any flaws. Try to be a versatile defender. Shoot the three. Post up, push it on the break just kind of do a little bit of everything.”
Whether he’ll have the same impact as Manek remains to be seen, and he’ll certainly bring a different approach the four spot. There’s no doubt that it will be fun to watch Nance’s progression as a Tar Heel play out.