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LARAMIE (AP) — It started with a text message, then another, then another. Larry Nance Jr. didn’t recognize the number, but the name seemed vaguely familiar.
The kid from Boulder, Colo., kept sending the texts, imploring a guy he had never met to come play basketball with him at Wyoming. They both wore No. 22, but Grabau assured Nance that if he signed on the dotted line, the number would be all his.
“I heard he wanted to come here, so I got on my horse and tried to explain to him why it’d be good for both of us to go there,” Grabau said.
Years later, Nance jokes that Grabau’s decision to part ways with the “22” was a big reason why he ended up in Laramie. Regardless of what the real reason was, Grabau and Nance joined the Cowboys’ basketball team together.
And after experiencing their fair share of growing pains, it’s all starting to pay off.
Grabau, who had been named the Colorado State Tournament MVP in his senior year at high school, arrived at Wyoming in 2011 hoping to play right away. Instead, he made zero starts, played 7.2 minutes per game and produced 0.9 points per game and two 3-point baskets in 13 attempts all season. He wasn’t a contributor. He was a worst-case scenario.
“Riley as a freshman, I would have called every timeout to keep Paco (Cruz), JayDee Luster, Luke Martinez on the floor, rather than put you in,” Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said in October. “You played about one minute a game.”
Less than two years later, that has all changed.
Grabau, now a junior, leads the team with 35.3 minutes and is second in scoring at 13 points per game. He’s shooting 62 percent from behind the arc.
The result, at this point, is so consistent that it’s almost boring. Nance could look up to see if Grabau’s 3-point tries find their mark, but he’s watched the same movie so many times that he already knows the ending.
“How do you not have confidence when he shoots the ball? When the ball goes up, I don’t even look to see if it goes in,” Nance told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/1dOlc17). “Me and DC (Derek Cooke Jr.) just turn and run down to the other end of the court, just because it’s automatic. Seeing him grow from freshman year to this year has been awesome.”
Grabau credits the 30 percent leap in long distance accuracy to his coaches, his system, his teammates — anybody but himself. After such consistent excellence, though, the old saying of Peter Parker, Spider-Man’s alter ego, is starting to sink in: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
“I miss a shot in practice and (my teammates) are like, ‘What? You missed?’ I just laugh and just tell them every day, ‘I can’t wait until the day I go 0-fer or something, get the pressure off,’” Grabau said.
“Other than that, though, I feel confident in my shot. I feel good when I release it. So I’m just going to keep shooting it.”
Meanwhile, in the land of the trees, the 6-8 Nance has also made strides. The junior finished with a career-high 38 points in a loss at Denver last Sunday. He now leads the team in scoring (15.8 ppg) and rebounding (9.3).
In previous seasons, Shyatt can recall his lanky big man getting pushed out of the lane by more imposing defenders. After an offseason in which Nance added 15 pounds of muscle, though, the bullied has become the bully.
“We tried to get the ball to Leonard (Washington) and Larry quite often last year, and we weren’t as successful as we would like to have been. They got pushed around a little bit, and they got moved two, sometimes three steps off the box,” Shyatt said.
“Larry has had a couple games — Ohio State rings a bell — where he was able to get some things not only going to the hoop off the dribble, but posting up and sealing.”
Grabau and Nance — once mere text-message acquaintances — have grown together both on the court and off. Both criminal justice majors, they share nearly as much time together in the classroom as on the hardwood.
“I never get sick of Larry,” Grabau said, laughing loudly. “I love seeing him in class. It makes it fun.”
More than two seasons after meeting up in Laramie, there’s now only one No. 22 at Wyoming. But if dropping a “2’’ means getting to play alongside Nance, Grabau — now just No. 2 — isn’t going to complain.
“In terms of basketball, I love that dude,” Grabau said. “I’d do anything for him.”