Nassir Little doesn’t take his talent and the responsibility that comes with it lightly.
Little, who was presented with his McDonald’s All-American jersey when the McDonald’s All American Hometown Heroes presented by American Family Insurance stopped by Orlando Christian Prep Wednesday afternoon, called receiving the honor thrilling and a powerful reminder of all the people who have helped him get there.
“You see the names out there and the game. I’ve had this dream since I was young and having it come true is crazy,” Little told USA TODAY. “I’ve been aware of the game since I was in elementary school. It really started intriguing me when I was in sixth grade. It was the year that Blake Griffin was in it that really caught my eye.
“(The jersey presentation) was a great feeling. The ceremony had my coach, my friends, my entire school supporting me. It’s great to know there are people out there rooting for you.”
The North Carolina-bound senior says that he values his ability because of all the hard work he’s put in to develop into the player he has become, and he values being a role model because of the role they played in his life.
That includes 4 a.m. workouts at his local L.A. Fitness, where he said the check-in attendees probably don’t even know who he is.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is to accomplish something. Not just basketball. Most assets of life, people don’t see the hours of me at 4 in the morning, then hitting the books, then practicing, then going back in to work until 10 at night. They look at me and see the highlights, but I think people should know how hard the process is and not take it for granted.
I have a local L.A. Fitness. Im the first person in the gym in the morning, and at night I go when there’s no one else there. I don’t think the people at the L.A. Fitness know who I am. I think they don’t realize who I am and just realize there’s some kid walking in with a ball every am. Hopefully one day they’ll know.”
Little’s senior season has played out in front of a controversial backdrop. The prospect was reportedly one of the players referred to in documents that were released during the arrests that followed an amateur basketball sting by the FBI, with the documents claiming that Adidas wanted to pay $150,000 to sway those around him to convince Little to commit to Miami rather than Arizona.
Instead, he was cleared of any connection to wrongdoing (Little insists he knew nothing about any discussions or arrangements whatsoever) and always considered each program on its own merit. In the end he chose North Carolina, which interested him both because of its basketball and academic heritage.
He hopes his time in Chapel Hill, however long it will be, will pave the way for him to continue to have an impact, whether on the court or in another pursuit.
“It’s a big feeling to be a role model for people,” Little said. “It’s tough sometimes because you’re still a teenager and you have to mature a bit quicker. For the most part, I looked at it as a chance to inspire kids. I would have wanted that when I was in their shoes, so I try to give kids hope as many as I can. I love inspiring people.
“For kids, I think they need to know that school is just as important and even more important than basketball. When basketball is over you’ll still have the knowledge.”
The 2018 McDonald’s All-America Game game tips on March 28 at Phillips Arena in Atlanta.