A chat with UNC basketball’s Nassir Little
Nassir Little is one of the top NBA prospects in a loaded 2019 Draft Class that will feature Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and others. Before he set off for the University of North Carolina, I talked to him about his busy senior year, his decision to attend North Carolina, and his basketball future.
Q: After being invited to the Jordan Brand Classic and McDonald’s All American Game, can you just speak on how awesome of an experience those events were?
Nassir Little: Yeah, it was a great experience to be honored for all the hard work I’ve put in to get that kind of recognition. It’s really fulfilling for a player like me who has been on the grind and on the come-up.
Q: You won the MVP of the McDonalds All American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic, becoming the first player since LeBron James to do that. Were you aware of that and has it really sunk in that you were the most valuable player of both of those events considering the talent that was there?
Nassir Little: I haven’t really thought about the fact that I’m on that list (with LeBron) of players that have been able to accomplish that, but it doesn’t really surprise me. You know, I’ve worked out a lot and I thought I could do it. I just had to apply myself and go hard and do what I do.
Q: Before those games, you were ranked as the #5 player in the 2018 recruiting class (according to ESPN), and after the games you were #2. Do you think that was a more accurate and respectable ranking?
Nassir Little: Yeah, for sure. My goal is to improve and get better and each time I came out I think I did that. The ranking is a little bit better, but obviously being a competitor I think I should be #1. But you know, just getting better is the main goal and I did that for sure.
Q: Now let’s talk a bit about the recruiting process. You had offers from every big name school in the country: Duke, UNC, Arizona, Kansas, UCLA, and many more. What ultimately made you pick North Carolina?
Nassir Little: UNC’s playing style fit me the best, the way they get up and down in transition. I’ve always loved the school growing up and playing for a Hall of Fame coach like Coach Roy is something that not many people get to do. So I thought it would be to my advantage to seize the opportunity so I can become a better basketball player and boost my IQ by just learning from him and become great.
Q: Take me through the day you decided to attend UNC and the discussions you had with your family.
Nassir Little: To start, it was a regular day. I hadn’t had a day planned or anything, you know. I just woke up one day and I was with my parents riding around, and they wanted to go get dinner so we went to Olive Garden. We were just eating and I was talking to my parents, throughout the process we would always talk about schools together. I just told them, I think I’m supposed to go with my gut because every school has their pros and cons, so I gotta go with what I feel at the moment. My mom said, “go for it.” I told them that I wanted to go to North Carolina. Usually they would’ve told me to wait and think about it, but this time they told me to go ahead and pull the trigger. So at that moment I had called Coach Roy and I told him I was attending North Carolina.
Q: During the recruiting process did any of the current or former Tar Heels players reach out to do some recruiting and persuade you to go to North Carolina?
Nassir Little: Just the current commits, not really any of the players. Just the commits like Rechon Black and Coby White.
Q: You mentioned Rechon and Coby, how do you think your recruiting class matches up against Duke’s and Kentucky’s?
Nassir Little: I think we match up really well and I think Rechon is really a sleeper. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves – he’s a great player. You know, me and Coby, the way we can make plays, I think we can compete with anybody. We are all hard, tough guys that can get the job done.
Q: Now you mentioned that a lot of people overlook Rechon Black, but do you think a lot of people overlook Coby White and don’t give him the respect he deserves?
Nassir Little: Yeah, for sure. Coby prolly is, actually definitely is, one of the best scorers in the country. So he definitely deserves more recognition, but at the same time he still has gotten a lofty status, in regards to the respect of his game. I still feel like Rechon is the biggest sleeper in our recruiting class.
Q: How excited are you to finally be playing in the UNC-Duke rivalry and do you think the very talented recruiting classes of both teams will add some spark to the rivalry?
Nassir Little: Yeah, you know, just watching those games anybody can tell it’s somebody’s dream (to play in that game), if they really love to play the game. That kind of energy propels guys to the next level. With the hype of us coming in at UNC and the hype of the Duke guys coming in, it’s gonna be really lit. Especially with the competition I’ve had with these guys in high school, matching up against RJ, Zion, and Cam, that’s kind of already started the rivalry a little early so people are going to be expecting to see that.
Q: North Carolina reached two straight Final Fours and won a National Championship before being knocked out early this year. How big of a role, if any, did their recent success play into your decision to attend the university?
Nassir Little: Success was definitely a factor. I’m a guy that likes to win and I wanna help people win. So, the fact that I saw them go to the Final Four then win the championship the next year, then get knocked out early; my mindset is that I can come in and take us far again and win another championship.
Q: When you first stepped foot on campus, what was Roy Williams’ big pitch to you as to why you should attend UNC?
Nassir Little: His big pitch to me was that he was going to coach me. He said nothing was going to be given to me and that’s something I appreciate. That means he is a genuine guy and that he won’t flake. When people tend to promise things too early before you prove yourself, things don’t always go as planned and it turns into a situation where the guy wasn’t being honest with you, and at that point you aren’t keeping it real. So if you have a coach that is able to tell you that before you even commit that nothing is promised, that says a lot.
Q: Coach Roy Williams is notorious for taking young players and molding them into NBA players throughout their years in college. He did it recently with Marcus Paige, Justing Jackson, Theo Pinson, Joel Berry, etc. Is that a group you want to become a part of? That’s why he has such a huge legacy. He takes these players and gets them to buy into the system for 3-4 years, unlike Coach K and Calipari. Overall, what do you hope to experience and learn during your time as a Tar Heel whether it be one year or four years?
Nasir Little: I just want to become a better basketball player. I think I have a lot to learn, not necessarily just from the talent aspect of it but just learning the game. With a basketball mind like Coach Roy teaching me everyday I can do nothing but get better. That will be a great advantage for me coming into the league.
Q: Have you talked with this years team about your expectations for this year?
Nassir Little: Not yet. I’ve talked to Luke Maye a little bit and obviously me, Coby, and Rechon have been talking about it and I’ve talked to Garrison Brooks as well. They are excited for me to come and thats a great feeling as a freshman coming in, having teammates like that.
Q: Do you think the mix of veterans and young players on this years team will give you an advantage over other blue blood programs like Duke and Kentucky who have turned over nearly their entire rosters?
Nassir Little: Most definitely. Those types of schools don’t really have the guys who have been there for years. Having those veterans who have been there over and over and then bringing young guys like us who are eager to learn will help. Honestly, with this class we have some real athletes. On the current UNC roster I don’t think there is anybody who can jump like me, so adding that with what they already have, and a scorer like Coby and Rechon. Because Rechon, people look at him as a scorer, but he is really good at making plays, so having a playmaker like Rechon at 6’8″ makes us a force to be reckoned with.
Q: In terms of your length, style of play, and scoring ability, who would you compare yourself to in the NBA right now and who do you ultimately want to end up being like?
Nassir Little: Kawhi Leonard, most definitely.
Q: If you had to chose any UNC basketball player to be your all time favorite, besides Michael Jordan, who would it be and why?
Nassir Little: Vince Carter. Man, Vince Carter, man I used to watch his old tapes and it’s just crazy. I just love the energy he brings to the game and the kind of plays he makes. I’m a fan of a lot of guys who have played at UNC like Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson, but I would have to say Vince, most definitely.
-Connor Hall (@ByConnorHall)