Nairn and his Spartans have done a lot of rejoicing lately. A No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, they’ve made a remarkable to run to the Final Four and will play Duke in a national semifinal Saturday night. Along the way, the 5-foot-10 guard with the nickname “Tum Tum” has endeared himself to fans and teammates alike, adding energy and quickness to the lineup and providing leadership beyond his years.
“Tum’s one of those guys where he does so much for our team that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” senior Travis Trice said. “I mean, there’s times after practice where guys are kind of tired, or even before practice when we’re tired heading into it, and Tum’s there with all the energy and boosts everybody up. I mean, he’s the life of the locker room really, him and Denzel (Valentine).”
Nairn’s distinctive name has drawn plenty of attention in his first season as a Spartan. He says he thinks his grandfather was a fan of Lou Rawls, and the famous singer’s name has been passed down through the family. Nairn is the son of Lourawls Nairn Sr.
The nickname “Tum Tum” comes from a character in the 1992 movie “3 Ninjas.”
Nairn grew up in the Bahamas and didn’t start playing basketball until he was around 12. He moved to the U.S. when he was 13, and he came to Michigan State after an impressive showing on the court for Sunrise Christian Academy of Bel Aire, Kansas.
Nairn is still a work in progress. He’s quick enough to make up for his diminutive frame, but he’s attempted only 10 shots all season from 3-point range, and he’s shooting 33 percent from the field overall.
What Nairn provides — in addition to his speed — is a dependable ball handler, and that became crucial when Trice seemed to be struggling under the weight of increased minutes and responsibility. Around the midway point of February, coach Tom Izzo put Nairn in the starting lineup, and the Spartans are 12-3 since then.
It was a bit of a bold move by Izzo, putting a freshman in the starting lineup to replace a senior. Trice responded well to the change — both on and off the court — and since the beginning of March, both he and Nairn have been starting.
“He was my roommate,” Nairn said. “I never felt any negativity toward me. He was the same person, all the time. I’m learning a lot from him, how he handled everything.”
Nairn’s outgoing personality has no doubt made it easier for him to fit in on a Michigan State team led by veterans Trice, Valentine and Branden Dawson. Izzo said former Spartan Draymond Green noticed Nairn’s potential last summer.
“He told me at the end of the summer, ‘You’ve got some good leaders. He was talking about Trav and ‘Zel. He said the best one might be Tum,” Izzo said.
Nairn should have plenty of time to develop into a more polished offensive player, but he’s already a solid contributor for a team that has needed an energy boost at times this season.
“You have to learn about people outside of basketball, if you want to be true warriors on the (court) with them,” Nairn said. “I’ve learned so much from these guys, just going about their lives. … That’s why we fight so hard for each other.”
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