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Larry Nance, Jr. - Emerging as the Face of the University of Wyoming Men's Basketball Program

 

Larry Nance, Jr. ambles down the stairs, flashes a smile and extends his right hand.

“I’m Larry,” he says. “How’s it going?”

That all sounds familiar if you’ve met Nance, the affable sophomore who is emerging as the face of the University of Wyoming men’s basketball program.

If you’ve never met him, well, that’s what you can expect when you do: a smile, a handshake and a pleasant greeting.

An intimidating presence on the basketball court at 6-foot-8 and 210 lean pounds, Nance is far from it off the hardwood where he has adopted the role of ambassador for a Cowboy team that is working to secure consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in more than a decade. His friendly, outgoing demeanor has endeared him to UW fans as much as his ability to score and rebound, and his diligence in the classroom has come to epitomize the university’s desire for every student-athlete.

If he was ever in the shadow of his father, Larry Nance, Sr., a former NBA star who will forever be one of the city of Cleveland’s most celebrated sports stars, he’s not anymore. These days, Larry Jr. is casting a shadow of his own.

“When you look at Larry, I think you see the quintessential student-athlete,” says Nick Popplewell, UW’s assistant athletics director for marketing and branding. “We take great pride in recruiting individuals who will be leaders in the classroom, community and on the fields and courts of competition—and Larry embodies all of those aspirations. He has started a tremendous legacy for future Cowboys and Cowgirls to follow.”

“He is just the nicest guy,” says Cathy Worthington Moen, advising coordinator in the UW Department of Criminal Justice. “He always smiles and shakes my hand, and he’s so personable, polite and accommodating. You don’t get that with all of the students, and I think that’s why he’s one I always look forward to seeing.”

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If you’re wondering how Larry Nance, Jr. grew into the young man he is, Sam Amico has your answer.

“He was raised right,” says Amico, a Cleveland-based NBA columnist for Fox Sports who knows the Nance family. “He is very grounded, polite and soft-spoken like his dad. And his sister, Casey, who played basketball at Dayton, is the same way.”

He adds, “When you talk to anybody in the family, there is no hint of entitlement, not a shred of condescension. They’re very respectful.”

Even the family’s home, Amico says, is reflective of the Nances’ humility. “They live in Bath Township, near Akron, in a modest neighborhood near a school. It’s not where you’d think a retired NBA superstar and his family would live. It’s like your typical, upper-middle class American home.”

Larry Jr. brought his family’s modesty to Wyoming’s university, a place he chose, to his parents’ surprise, after becoming infatuated during his recruiting visit. He says he also appreciated Cowboy head coach Larry Shyatt’s philosophy on life and basketball and believed that UW’s educational offerings would best prepare him for a career in criminal justice.

Now that he’s here, Nance, 20, says he simply wants to do what’s right—by his team, his school, his family, his adopted state.

“I just try to give the basketball team the best reputation I can, whether it’s saying hi to people on campus or smiling at them when they walk past me. Whatever it may be, I want to keep myself and the basketball program in a high regard in people’s minds,” says Nance, who has blossomed into a full-time starter after playing all 33 games in a reserve role as a freshman. “The first thing they told me when I came on my [recruiting] visit was that basketball’s not the priority. They wanted us to be great people and good players, or fantastic people and great players.

“Life is more important than basketball in their eyes. As long as we were doing well in the classroom—and, last semester, we set a record for highest GPA—and representing our community and our state in a positive way, they’re going to be happy.”

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When you watch Larry Nance, Jr. play basketball, you see a lot of his father in him. Coincidentally, or maybe not, his statistics this season nearly mirror Larry Sr.’s numbers (11.1 points, 7.2 rebounds per game) during his sophomore season at Clemson University in the late 1970s.

Athletic and graceful, Larry Jr. also has a knack for rim-rattling slam dunks that bring fans out of their seats. Sort of like his father, the NBA’s first slam-dunk contest winner in 1984.

“There’s definitely going to be comparisons, no matter if I was the best player or the worst player, and that’s OK,” says Larry Jr., the second of three children born to Larry Sr. and his wife of nearly 25 years, Jaynee. “But I just think my dad’s done a really good job of taking that pressure off me. He never pushed me to play basketball; I didn’t start playing until seventh grade. I was a soccer player, and he was fine with that. He’s never forced me to be in his shadow.”

You’ll see a lot of his father in him off the court, too. He happily signs autographs or poses for pictures with UW fans, win or lose, after home games inside the Arena-Auditorium, and he says he enjoys visiting with fellow students and others on campus between classes.

That doesn’t surprise Amico, who says the younger Nance is simply following his dad’s lead. “I see Larry Sr. everywhere—at restaurants, at the grocery store, I’ve even seen him at a karaoke bar,” he says with a chuckle. “And he’s always talking to somebody. He’s never too busy for you.”

The next time you see Larry Jr., go ahead and introduce yourself. He insists.

“If you’re a Wyoming fan, I want to meet you,” he says with a smile.

His fellow teammates do, too, Nance says.

“There’s not one person on our team that’s a bad guy. If you see us on campus or around town, don’t be afraid to say hi or ask us for a picture or an autograph, reach something high for you, whatever it may be,” he says. “We’re all friendly people. We’ve adopted that Coach Shyatt way: Say ‘hi’ first.”

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Larry Nance, Jr.

Larry Nance, Jr. - University of Wyoming Men's Basketball
Larry Nance, Jr. in action on the University of Wyoming basketball court.

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