Larry Nance Jr. didn't have to touch a basketball to know.

Wyoming's 6-foot-8 senior forward was one of 15 collegiate big men invited to participate in the 2014 Nike Big Man Skills Academy in Union, New Jersey, on June 23-25. But because he's still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered late last season, Nance didn't physically participate.

He didn't shoot a jumper over an outstretched hand, or display a quick first step to the basket followed by an emphatic tomahawk dunk. He didn't block a shot, or sink a free throw or rumble down the hardwood in transition.

The camp was designed to feature the most promising interior players in the country. And despite playing the spectator's role, Nance came away convinced that he's one of them.

“I think I can play with anybody in college basketball," Nance said Monday. "And just from watching those guys there, I felt like I definitely belonged at that camp.”

The camp's primary instructors were two former Kentucky Wildcats who have since found homes in the NBA: the New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis and the Sacramento Kings' DeMarcus Cousins. Nance spent two and a half days watching drills, attending seminars, breaking down film and picking the brains of both his instructors and fellow players.

And according to Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt, he was also following orders.

“I thought rubbing elbows with them -- listening, analyzing -- he’s going to come back with a new vocabulary, some new techniques to use," Shyatt said. "I thought it could not only help him, it could help our coaching staff and the rest of our team.

"So he deserved it, and I wanted him both mentally and physically to be out there.”

For Nance, watching others play basketball hasn't been easy in recent months -- like a starving man standing by while others feast in front of him.

But because of the difference in environment and competition, his inability to participate in the camp drills was even more frustrating.

“It was killing me, especially when DeMarcus Cousins and [Anthony] Davis got in the drills," Nance said. "Playing against a pro, for a lot of people, is a once in a lifetime experience.

"Let’s hope it’s not for me, but I would have loved to take part in it.”

Nance is constantly tempted, and occasionally he allows himself to indulge. At Monday's practice back in the UniWyo gym, he jumped from a set position under the basket and dunked a ball home with one hand.

From the opposite end of the court, Shyatt yelled, "Larry!", and that was the end of the sudden demonstration.

But for someone who spent much of the 2013-14 season dunking on helpless, overwhelmed competitors, the practice isn't something that can be dropped on a whim.

“If I averaged 15 points last year, I bet I averaged three dunks per game. So it’s tough to keep me from doing that when I’m in the gym," Nance said with a guilty grin. "But I know I have to stop.”

Though dunking is a no-no, Nance hasn't been standing still. Wyoming's leading scorer in 2013-14 with 15.4 points per game, he looks thicker around the chest and shoulders, the result of a forced emphasis on upper body strength. He has begun jogging and shooting as well, and is still on pace to start in Wyoming's 2014 season opener.

When November rolls around, Nance will finally get his opportunity to prove that he belongs in the company of the country's top big men.

But until then, there will be more watching, more rehabbing and more restraint.

If fans of the Mountain West learned anything last season, it's that the only person that can stop Nance from dunking is Nance.

“It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve had to do. You go from three years of basketball in the winter, summer, fall, spring," Nance said. "Now, even this summer and a little bit in the spring, I can’t do anything.

"It’s tough to keep me out of the gym. But for my own sake and our team’s sake, I have to. I’m just looking forward to getting back.”

Reach reporter Mike Vorel at Mike.Vorel@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeVorel.

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