Peter Nance hopes to be Heels’ difference-maker

The impact transfer is looking to put UNC over the hump

Peter Nance, who transfered to UNC from Northwestern, will provide a veteran post presence for the Tar Heels this season. (Rebecca S. Gratz / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — The answer to the trivia question is an interesting collection of basketball players: Chris Dudley, Elgin Baylor, Larry Nance Sr., Clyde Drexler and now Justin McKoy.

The question: Who has kept a member of the Nance family from wearing No. 22?

Father Larry wore the digits for his entire college and NBA career, save the end of the 1988 season. Traded from Phoenix to Cleveland, he arrived to find that Dudley, a rookie, already had the number.

Son Larry Jr. wore 22 in college but has found his NBA path to the number blocked on occasion. He started with the Lakers, who had already retired it in honor of Baylor. When he went to Cleveland, the Cavs had also retired it, in honor of dear old dad, who eventually gave the team permission to unretire the number for Larry Jr. to wear. And when the younger Nance went to Portland, it was already in the rafters for Drexler.

Other than that, it’s been a clean sweep through the Nance family for 22. Daughter/sister Casey wore it at Dayton, and Peter wore it throughout his Northwestern career.

Now, however, Peter has transferred to UNC, and McKoy, a reserve on last year’s Final Four team, was already in possession of 22.

“I tried to talk him out of it,” Nance said. “It is a number that we both have been wearing our whole lives. I’ve never been on a team where I haven’t worn No. 22. It’s definitely interesting for me and new for me. But that’s definitely his number and he was here before me. He didn’t budge. He wouldn’t give it up.”

It will be a new beginning in several ways for Nance, who plans to wear 32 for the Tar Heels. He joins a team that returns nearly intact from the one that came close to winning a national championship in New Orleans last year. The one key departure from last season’s UNC team is the guy who played the role Nance is expected to fill.

Brady Manek came to Carolina after four years at Oklahoma and gave the Tar Heels size, an outside shooting threat and a veteran presence that included calling out the team early in the season for what he thought was soft play.

It’s natural to expect Nance to fill the Manek role for this year’s Heels. He’s 6-foot-11 and has experience guarding some of the biggest men in the nation while patrolling the post in the Big Ten for four years.

“I think I have the capability to play the five,” he said. “I showed that at Northwestern, and definitely the Big Ten has some monsters.”

Like Manek, Nance likely won’t need to spend full time in the post, thanks to the presence of preseason All-American Armando Bacot.

“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 is something I’m definitely excited about,” Nance said of his new teammate.

Despite his size, Nance also led Northwestern in outside shooting last year, hitting more than 45% from 3 on his way to a team-high 14.6 points per game.

Still, coach Hubert Davis cautions against assuming that this year’s big transfer shooting from outside is a carbon copy of last year’s.

“This is the only way that it reminds me of Brady — he’s only been here three and a half months and it feels like he’s been here for four years,” Davis said. “The relationships that he has with the coaches and his teammates, it’s been seamless, it really has. 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 I never coaching him or him not being a part of my life. I couldn’t imagine that.”

Nance is also joining a different team than Manek did. The 2021-22 Tar Heels were coming off a first-round NCAA exit, on their way back from the worst season in a generation the prior year. They were also going through a coaching change. Nance is joining a cohesive group looking to get one last step over the hump.

“I’m just going to try to be a real versatile player,” Nance said. “I know I’m coming into a really good team with some really, really talented players and really good guys. So I think just coming in and figuring out where I fit in, whether that be floor spacing or getting rebounds or guarding one through five. Just trying to be versatile and do whatever this team needs. And just trying to help where I can. I’m not a fifth-year guy where I’m coming in and trying to get my own. I’m here to help this team win in whatever ways I’m needed.”

And if that means giving up the family number?

“I tried to sweeten him up, tell him it does look good on him,” Nance said of negotiations with McKoy. “Tried to guilt him with my family’s been wearing it — all my family members have worn it, nobody has ever not worn No. 22, I don’t want to be the first. He wouldn’t budge, and I wouldn’t either if I were in his shoes because it’s too good of a number. It’s all good.”