By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — All that surprises Coach Hubert Davis about graduate transfer Pete Nance is that he’s not in the NBA already.
Now that the versatile 6–11 player is at Carolina and a part of the program for one season, the second-year coach says it feels like the 22-year-old has been in Chapel Hill for four years even though it’s only been about 3½ months.
Davis, whose team faces Johnson C. Smith in an exhibition at 7:30 Friday night at the Smith Center (ACC Network Extra/ESPN3), said that surprises but doesn’t amaze him.
“The relationships that he has with the coaches and his teammates — it’s been seamless, it really has,” Davis said. “And so, to think that four months ago, I never had talked to or met Pete Nance and now I can’t imagine him never being here or never coaching him or him not being a part of my life. I couldn’t imagine that.”
On Thursday, Nance made the 20-player watchlist for the Karl Malone Award, which goes to the top power forward in the country. Other ACC players on the list are Duke’s Kyle Filipowski, Miami’s Norchad Omier, Virginia’s Jayden Gardner and Virginia Tech’s Justyn Mutts.
Nance says it’s been an easy transition despite going from a Northwestern program that never made the NCAA tournament in his four seasons to being part of a top-ranked team with sky-high expectations.
His wow moment came when he walked into the Smith Center for the first time. All of those championship banners got his attention.
“Seeing those banners up there in the place where I practice every day is something that I’m not used to,” Nance said. “And knowing that that’s kind of the standard that’s been set for a program like this? That was something that was really cool for me. I think, besides that, I’ve really just had a great time here.”
Once he got settled in with his teammates and program, it was a case of getting to work, helping his teammates and coaches and drawing from their reflections about the Final Four run.
“Just being able to take from those experiences that those guys have and just apply what I learned from them and see how they react,” Nance said. “I think I’m in a great situation as far as examples to follow in that sense.”
Unlike when Brady Manek transferred in from Oklahoma, at least Davis could meet with Nance in person before Nance decided to transfer. Davis talked to Manek on Tuesday, and he was in Chapel Hill that Friday. It was still a condensed recruiting process compared to when Davis talks to high school recruits over extended periods and gets to know their personalities and how they fit in.
The transfer portal is helpful, but learning about the person you bring in is still a challenge. With both Manek and Nance, Davis knew their games but didn’t know them too well.
“Obviously, we’ve had conversations, and he came on a visit, and we were able to spend time together,” Davis said. “But you just never know. And it hasn’t been good; it’s been unbelievably great.”
As far as Nance’s game that Davis knew, the coach said that he’d seen everything that he saw on video in practice. That’s why Davis feels lucky to have Nance on his roster rather than an NBA roster.
“Where basketball is at right now with mobile bigs who are super-skilled and can do a number of things on both ends of the floor, he fits the type perfectly,” Davis said. “He can guard one through five. When he rebounds a basketball, he brings the ball up the floor. From an offensive standpoint, he can score on a post, attack the offensive glass, but he is an unbelievable passer and screener.”
Nance may not have the prolific perimeter shooting that Manek brought to the team, but he shot a career-best 45.2% from 3-point range last season (42 of 93). He averaged a career-high 14.6 points and blocked a career-high 34 shots.
Playing beside center Armando Bacot, the Preseason ACC Player of the Year and a Preseason All-America pick, will dramatically change his challenges.
Instead of playing the five spot and battling Big Ten centers such as 7–0, 285-pound Illinois center Kofi Cockburn or 7–4, 295-pound Purdue Zach Edey, he’ll mostly be dealing with power forwards around the ACC who aren’t quite the same intimidating forces.
“I definitely have the capability to play the five; I showed that in Northwestern, and definitely the Big Ten has some monsters,” said Nance, who weighs 230 pounds. “But being able to have a national-player-of-the-year caliber player on my team and being able to work with somebody like him, alongside him at the four. It is something I’m definitely excited about, and to be able to showcase that part of my game as well.”
Davis has wanted the two to play together as much as possible during the preseason, so it was no surprise that he put Bacot and Nance on the same team for the scrimmage at Live Action With Carolina Basketball.
It sounds like the chemistry is improving every week for a duo that has never played a game together that counts.
“I love working with Armando,” Nance said. “He’s a really smart player. He plays really hard. I love getting him the ball. He really knows how to score down there. And I think just continuing to build our chemistry, just knowing where he’s at, him knowing where I’m going to be in certain situations. It’s hard to specifically describe, but it’s really been going great and I’m excited for the relationship to continue to build.”
Nance is modest about what he can do for this UNC team and is willing to bring whatever part of his game he needs at any point in the season to help the Tar Heels win.
“Whatever I’m needed to do during a game, I’ll I will try to do it,” Nance said. “If we need to defend, if we need to facilitate more, if we’re in a dry scoring spell, I can be that guy. I’ve done that, too. Just trying to literally be whatever this team needs to get over the hump is what I’m here for because I love these guys and I want to, along with everybody else, do great things here.”
That journey is about to start, one that he undoubtedly hopes is as magical as Manek’s ride last season.
|28||Friday||W, 101–40||Johnson C. Smith||Home||Exhibition|
|11||Friday||W, 102–86||College of Charleston||Home||2–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 80–64||James Madison||Home||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|24||Thursday||W, 89–81||First round: Portland||Portland||5–0|
|27||Sunday||L, 103–101, |
No. 18 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||9:15||No. 11 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||ESPN|
|4||Sunday||3 p.m.||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||ACCN|
|13||Tuesday||7 p.m.||The Citadel||Home||ESPN2|
|CBS Sports Classic|
|17||Saturday||3 p.m.||Ohio State||New York||CBS|
|4||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Wake Forest||Home||ACCN|
|7||Saturday||11:30 a.m.||Notre Dame||Home||ESPN2|
|10||Tuesday||9 p.m.||No. 5 Virginia||Charlottesville||ESPN or ESPN2|
|14||Saturday||2 p.m.||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||ESPN|
|17||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Boston College||Home||RSN|
|21||Saturday||5 p.m.||N.C. State||Home||ACCN|
|24||Tuesday||9 p.m.||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||ESPN|
|4||Saturday||6:30||No. 8 Duke||Durham||ESPN|
|7||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||ESPN or ESPN2|
|11||Saturday||2 p.m.||Clemson||Home||ESPN or ESPN2|
|19||Sunday||1 p.m.||N.C. State||Raleigh||ESPN|
|22||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN or ESPN2|
|25||Saturday||6 or 8||No. 5 Virginia||Home||ESPN|
|27||Monday||7 p.m.||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||ESPN|
|4||Saturday||6 or 6:30||No. 8 Duke||Home||ESPN|