After another stellar season from guard James Nunnally, the UCSB men’s basketball team enters the Big West Tournament this Thursday as the No. 3 overall seed. Daily Nexus Sports Editor Ryan Porush sat down with Nunnally for a look into the life of the standout senior.
Ryan Porush: You were recently named to the Second Team All-Big West for the second time, marking the third time in four years in which you have received All-League honors. What do these accomplishments mean to you?
James Nunnally: Not to be arrogant or cocky, but I honestly don’t feel like I deserved Second Team this year. I didn’t want that Second Team honor, I feel like I am First Team … It will just make be hungry going forward though; I’m motivated like crazy right now. I just want to prove to everybody and all the coaches that voted against me that they made the wrong choice.
Nunnally was voted Second Team All-Big West in 2009-10 and an Honorable Mention All-Big West last season. He averaged 15.9 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game this season, both career highs.
RP: After scoring 24 points on Senior Night last weekend, you moved into fourth place on the All-Time UCSB scoring list with 1,619 career points. Did you ever imagine this being possible when you came here as a freshman?
JN: No, I never did. My first two games here I barely played — like 10 minutes a game. So I didn’t think that would be possible. Then I started to play more and more … at first it was looking rocky, but it’s been great since. … It’s pretty amazing looking back.
RP: So after you went through your whole recruiting process, what led you to come to UCSB?
JN: I didn’t really know too much about the university, then my coach back home that I was real close with — my brother’s junior college coach — he kind of was guiding me where to go. He told me, ‘It’s a good program; they are going to be bringing in a couple more freshmen to reboot the program.’ Then when I came on my visit and played with the guys, everyone was really cool, and the guys were accepting. They just sold me — it felt like the perfect fit.
Nunnally’s older brother, Michael, transferred to Pacific, where he and James played against each other multiple times.
RP: You and Orlando Johnson came in here together four years ago. You guys were freshman roommates, are great friends and now are two of the top four leading scorers in school history. How has it been to accomplish all that you have alongside a great teammate and friend like OJ?
JN: It’s unbelievable. When we came in, we just said we wanted to win and do things players had never done at this school. It’s just been really, really fun, man. I’m honored to play with OJ … playing with OJ has been special — if they double him, I’ll be open, if they double me, he’ll be open, and I find him. We just feed off each other; it’s a good chemistry we have.
Orlando Johnson ranks first on the all-time UCSB scoring list with 1,754 career points.
RP: This year your overall game has evolved, as you seem to be more patient on offense. Was this a conscious effort by you to improve in certain areas?
JN: I have definitely made a leap this year. It’s just all the hard work I put in over summer. One of my best friends, we watched film together and worked out all summer. I just worked on everything I need to work on, you know? My post-game, seeing the floor, change of speed — just everything. And it really helped me.
Nunnally averaged a career high 2.6 assists per game this season.
RP: It was just announced that this season was the highest average attendance for the men’s basketball program in 17 years. What does it mean for the team on the court to have that kind of fan support at home?
JN: Really?! Wow. That means a lot to us. We love to see the Gaucho Locos out there and all the fans from the community. It really helps us on the court; they are like the sixth man. I love playing against big crowds especially at home … it motivates us even more because we are doing it for the school and the community, and not just for ourselves.
The Thunderdome drew an average crowd of 3,323 per game in 14 home games this season, the highest since 1995. Highlights were a sellout of 6,000 vs. Long Beach State on Jan. 21, and over 5,000 in back-to-back games vs. San Diego State and UNLV in November.RP: Off the court, what are your favorite things to do?
JN: I just like to chill. I like to hang out, stay mellow … listen to music, hang out with my friends, watch sports all day. I like going to the beach if the weather is nice. I go and check out downtown SB a little bit. You know, just a little bit.
RP: Any pre-game rituals we should know about?
JN: I just take a nap. I take like a 45-minute nap and then get in the shower, nothing too crazy.
RP: Kobe or LeBron?
JN: Kobe. That’s my guy. Kobe is the one.
RP: What gets you fired up? Any trash talk?
JN: I have a chip on my shoulder because people have overlooked me. I have the attitude like I’m the underdog. That’s the main thing that gets me going … when people start talking that gets me going too; that’s extra motivation. I don’t usually start the trash talk, but it will get me going.
RP: How many tattoos do you have?
JN: I have about 17 tattoos.
RP: Favorite one?
JN: My favorite is the one on the left inside of my arm, of my mom’s name.
RP: What does the future hold for James Nunnally?
JN: I’m definitely going to pursue my dream and try to get drafted or picked up in the NBA. That’s my number one priority. I feel like I’m an NBA player, and I feel like I can make it, and I feel like I am gonna make it … just gotta keep working hard and staying humble and hungry.
RP: Do you have a favorite moment or memory from your four years here?
JN: On the court, my favorite memory here was the chance to play against North Carolina in my freshman year. It was Hansborough’s first game back from injury, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington … that was a fun game in a fun atmosphere.
North Carolina went on the win the National Championship that season. Nunnally had season-highs of 22 points and seven rebounds in the game. Hansborough, Lawson, Green and Ellington were all drafted to the NBA.
RP: What about off the court?
JN: Off the court, I gotta go with Floatopia 2009. That was probably one of the funnest days ever.
RP: Yeah that was epic, and we were lucky — we caught that last one as freshmen.
JN: We did! We caught the last one. One of the best days ever.
RP: You guys have won each of the last two Big West Tournament Championships, beating the No. 1 seed this year, Long Beach State, both times. Any predictions for the tournament this weekend?
JN: No prediction — we are just going to play our hearts out. It’s win or go home now and as a senior, the stakes are much higher.
RP: When you look back on your time spent here in Santa Barbara, how will those memories be?
JN: My time here has had its ups and downs, and all in all I have loved it. I love SB — what it’s taught me, everything I’ve learned, all the people I’ve met and all the relationships I’ve had … this place and these years will always have a place in my heart, man.
Nunnally and the rest of the Gauchos will face off against Pacific at noon on Thursday in the first round of the Big West Tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim.