NBA

Larry Nance Jr. in the Driver's Seat On the Court and with Crohn's

Larry Nance Jr. talks exclusively with NBCLA.com about dealing with Crohn's disease, video games and his relationship with Julius Randle

When the Los Angeles Lakers finalize their 2016-17 roster, Larry Nance Jr. may well be the most energetic player on the team. The irony of being the energy guy for an NBA team after growing up as a lethargic kid to the point of earning a diagnosis of Crohn's disease is not lost on the 23-year-old.

"I think that goes to show how well the people that have been treating me have done in treating my Crohn's," Nance tells NBCLA.com over the phone on a rare day off. "I am one of the energy guys on the team, and if you would have seen me before I got diagnosed, it would have been a completely different story, believe me."

Beyond managing his own illness, Nance insists on providing a positive example as a person that can flourish with the condition. Over the summer, Nance spent time at Cedar's Sinai talking to kids about the condition as he received an infusion of Remicade, which is a key component to Nance's treatment.

Nance has a message, of course, "Just don't let you disease dictate your life. Don't build your life around your disease. Make sure you do what you want to do first and then do what you need to do for your disease."

He adds with an air of seriousness, "Just make sure you're in the driver's seat, not Crohn's."

Entering his sophomore season, the kid from Akron who went to the University of Wyoming and somehow wound up in Los Angeles is intent on getting the Lakers on the right path, even if Lakers coach Luke Walton is technically the man sitting in the driver's seat for the purple and gold.

"Larry wants the game to be played the right way, and when it's not, it bothers him," Walton said on the final day of training camp. Walton singled out his young power forward as one of the guys that got the team back on track during the final practice of camp.

Walton said about Nance, "When we are up and running and moving the ball, he's a happy man."

Celebrating his teammates' successes with chest bumps and making sure guys are playing the right way are only a couple of examples of how Nance is the ultimate teammate. Over the summer, the Lakers formed what became known as "The Breakfast Club," an early morning workout crew that gathered at the team's training facility in El Segundo. As Nance tells it, Anthony Brown and Nance began going to the gym "every day" and holding one another accountable for being on time.

When Brown was late, Nance would mess with him, "Aw man, you're too big time for 'The Breakfast club?'" As more guys got into the gym, a competitive culture of accountability developed.

"And soon enough, it grew to be six or seven guys in there, and we were all holding each other accountable for being there on time, getting ready, making games in the weight room," Nance says. "It created a fun, competitive-type culture."

Incidentally, Nance's improvement over the summer and even the understanding he displayed a season ago have analysts scratching their heads as to how the Lakers will find enough minutes for both Julius Randle and Nance at the power forward position. The thought of pushing Randle to center will be tested in preseason, but the early trials did not entirely return positive results. Both Randle and Nance could do with more than the even split of 24 minutes per game.

So, does Nance want to start at power forward for the Lakers?

"I want to win," Nance answers diplomatically. "Whoever meshes well with that first unit deserves to start. I don't think whoever is starting is better. I just think it's more about fit because we have two very capable power forwards. It's less about starting and more about fit."

Of course, Nance is correct in his assessment that fitting in with a unit is more indicative of earning a starting spot, but the competition for minutes brewing between Randle and Nance is impossible to ignore. Nance took Randle's starting spot a season ago, when former Lakers coach Byron Scott sent fans screaming with the lineup change. Nance, though, made the most of his opportunity and had fans wondering if the 6-foot 8-inch forward did not actually deserve to start, after all.

Entering a new season, Nance still has fans wondering if he should be the starting power forward over Randle. With the two battling for minutes in games and regularly battling head-to-head in practice, what is the relationship like between Randle and Nance?

"Julius and I are absolutely very, very similar as people," Nance says. "He's a very introverted person, as am I. At first, it wasn't like we disliked each other; it was just like 'I'm introverted, he's introverted.' We each did our own thing.

"This summer, we got to be around each other more and our relationship has gotten 10 times better because we do have that trait in common. So now, we're starting to appreciate that about one another. There are a lot of things that we have in common."

Nance adds, "I'm a huge fan of Julius, honestly."

Nance has his fans too, obviously, as the Ohio native plays team basketball on offense and plays with energy and activity on defense. He is undoubtedly one of the key hustle players on the team, and he also throws down monster dunks to ignite the crowd. The current coaching staff seemingly appreciates Nance's talent and understanding of the game, which is one of the few similarities between the current and previous coaching staffs. Fans love Nance's dunks and teammates seem to enjoy his highlight plays and energetic celebrations.

However, Nance's biggest fan may be standing in the mirror if one goes off the comments the Lakers' no. 7 makes when the subject turns to video games. Seemingly, texts often circulate after practice to see if anyone wants to play Call of Duty online. Headsets are required equipment during the gaming sessions.

"Now that (Roy Hibbert) is gone, no one can contest with me," Nance boasts about his Call of Duty skills and even went to an event for the launch of the latest installment in the franchise, Modern Warfare Remastered Edition. "Guys do love to play, but there's a difference in loving to play and knowing how to play."

Nance is not the traditional loud mouth energy guy. Instead, he carries a subtle cocky competitive confidence that comes through clearly when talking video games.

"I would say I'm not a big trash talker," Nance says, before quickly inserting an uppercut of trash talk: "I just let my game speak for itself."

Asked about who won the training camp gaming sessions, Nance almost laughs off the question, "I still took home the trophy."

Over the course of a 30-minute phone call, the 23-year-old energetically shares stories and details of his rookie year, dynamics inside the locker room and the struggles of moving to LA following a life in Ohio and Wyoming. Hesitating, he says that he was actually surprised to find that people in LA are friendlier than he expected. On his off days, Nance lives out his fantasy of being a beach bum in Manhattan Beach or Redondo Beach.

With every answer and every story, Nance's competitive fire subtly but unmistakably surfaces. He's no longer a timid rookie out of Wyoming or the lethargic kid from Akron. Nance is an NBA player that believes he belongs in the league.

"Last year, I came in and really just kind of didn't want to mess up. That was my biggest and only worry, like 'Go in and go play Larry, just don't mess up,'" Nance shares his inner dialogue, almost embarrassed. "Now I have a little bit more freedom and I feel a little bit more comfortable making decisions and making plays on my own for other guys. I think it's just a different level of confidence. I shot a three the other day. I can bring the ball up the court."

Whether on the court with the Lakers or off the court managing his Crohn's disease, Nance appears more comfortable, confident and in control of his own destiny than ever before.

Undoubtedly, Nance is in the driver's seat.

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