LOS ANGELES – The basketball road for Larry Nance, Jr. has certainly been interesting.
Nance went to high school in Akron, Ohio, but ended up playing college ball in Laramie, Wyoming.
Three years ago he was drafted by one of the NBA’s most storied franchises when the Lakers took Nance in the first round.
Just last month he was traded to one of the most talked about franchises. The Cleveland Cavaliers, headed home and teaming up with LeBron James. His agent said when he called to deliver the news about Cleveland, Nance was almost in tears out of happiness.
Back in L.A. for the first time and facing his new ‘old team’ for the first time, Nance was greeted with a warm ovation.
When the Lakers traded Nance, they gave up not only a tough defender, but a high-flying powerful dunker. Clearly at Staples he was a fan favorite. But they also loved him in the locker room. No hard feelings. In fact a couple Lakers agreed on their favorite Nance finish.
“The dunk he did on Kevin Durant,” smiled forward Kyle Kuzma. “That was probably my favorite.”
“The one on KD probably sticks in my head the most,” recalled guard Lonzo Ball. “That was a great play.”
“It was a good one,” agreed Nance, “it’s always fun getting out in transition. I had a bunch of fun ones here (with the Lakers).”
Kuzma and Ball only played Nance for a few months before the trade, but both miss the entertainment.
“A guy that was really fun to watch,” Kuzma said before the game. “He was uber-athletic. Could touch the top of the backboard.”
“Very entertaining, especially off the pick and roll with him,” Ball said. “Come off anywhere near the rim and he was going to go get it. So I definitely miss that.”
Nance played well against his old mates with 16 points and a near double double. But the Cavs had been a tailspin, Lakers had been hot, and L.A. won the Sunday primetime shootout, 127-113.
The game happen to be played on Selection Sunday. Three years to the day after Nance and the Cowboys were invited to a rare March Madness appearance.
“It was a dream come true at that time,” he remembered, “the first time our school had been there in a while, so it was a lot of fun.”
Nance was also Mountain West Conference Player of the Year in 2015. It was his last season at Wyoming and his NBA hopes hinged on output. He tossed in all his chips a year after being stuck on the bench.
“Tore my ACL my junior year, so I was coming back regardless. I’ve got good memories of that place, and go Cowboys, right?” he smiled.
The knee healed, Nance produced and Wyoming danced. Nance exploded offensively in the conference tournament win over San Diego State. But the Cowboys would lose early in the NCAA Tournament to Northern Iowa.
From Akron, to the west in Laramie, to the wild west in L.A., to a return trip home, Nance continues to turn heads.
In the last three decades, Theo Ratliff (1995), Fennis Dembo and Eric Leckner (1988) were the only other Wyoming Cowboys drafted.