Amico: Classy Larry Nance Jr Gave Hometown Cavs His All

Larry Nance Jr. had just finished his sophomore season at Wyoming when I bumped into him at a Cavaliers draft lottery event. Larry Nance Jr

I told him that, someday, I’ll be writing about him getting drafted. He just sort of laughed.

“I don’t think that’s in the cards for me,” he responded.

To be honest, I had my own doubts. Wyoming isn’t exactly a pipeline to the NBA. I also had heard Wyoming was the only Division I program to offer Nance a full scholarship out of Revere High School near Akron.

From Akron to Wyoming. I made that move as a young writer, landing in the small town of Rawlins for my first newspaper job. And hey, I had made it from Wyoming to the NBA.

But I was a writer. It would be a lot different for a professional athlete.

Still, I remember how Larry Nance Sr. once told me that he himself was a “late-bloomer.” He said he received only one scholarship offer — from Clemson. He then turned that into a successful NBA career, becoming a Cavs legend in the process.

Junior has had a similar story. While not quite as dynamic of a player as his dad, he took a similar path and can have a similar story with the Blazers.

You have to love the idea of Nance on the Trail Blazers, the team for which he will presumably now play after an agreed-upon three-team trade on Friday. It will result in the Cavs receiving forward Lauri Markkanen from the Bulls, and the Bulls receiving small forward Derrick Jones Jr. from the Blazers. (Full story.)

Nance should be an excellent fit next to Portland’s talented backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He is precisely what the Blazers need — an athletic big man who can defend all three frontcourt positions and offer an underrated dose of scoring and rebounding. 

In short, the Blazers immediately get better with the addition of Nance.

DRAFT DAY

Following Nance’s senior season at Wyoming, I was tipped off that the Spurs really wanted to draft him in the first round. I thought he may be an NBA player — but I wasn’t so sure he was a first-round pick. The year was 2015, and the Spurs had the No. 26 overall pick.

I wrote the story for FOX Sports. But I was nervous after it published.

Would the Spurs really use their first-rounder on a little-known forward from Wyoming? Would Nance even get drafted at all, in either round? Would I look like a moron for getting up the hopes of Akron-area fans, who were all pulling for him?

Well, it sure seemed that way after the Spurs instead drafted someone named Nikola Milutinov at No. 26. I immediately took some flak from the same place it always comes — Twitter.

San Antonio had made its pick and Nance was still sitting there. But, suddenly, just as I began to feel like a bigger fool than usual, came the announcement of the next selection.

“With the 27th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select … Larry Nance Jr., power forward, the University of Wyoming.”

My source was wrong about the Spurs, but right about Nance. He was a first-round talent.

CAV FOR LIFE

Nance spent his first two-and-half seasons in LA, proving to be a wildly athletic and capable frontcourt player with an upside. At very worst, it seemed, he would become the ultimate energy guy, an unselfish forward who thrived off making winning plays rather than off his own personal stats.

He remained that type of player in Cleveland, though he struggled to stay healthy last season, appearing in just 35 of the possible 72 games.

Nance appeared in the Finals alongside LeBron James. He remained for the rebuild alongside the likes of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. He never changed, always remained a professional, always gave great effort and stayed true to himself, the region and his hometown team.

When reports surfaced that the Cavs were fed up with then-coach John Beilein, I tiptoed into the locker room before a game, found Nance and asked him if the rumors were true.

“I’ve never had a problem with any coach for my entire career,” he told me. “So I sure don’t know where that’s coming from.”

That’s just Nance being himself. Always classy. Always a team guy. 

From Revere to Wyoming to the NBA, a pro’s pro and an obvious product of a strong family environment. He never once veered from that path.

The Blazers are lucky to have him. The Cavs were glad they did.

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