By RJ Young
When you really think about it, Jeff Green had as great a chance of being an NBA bust as Reggie Miller had of missing his two free throws in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. Much like Miller, Green is strong in mind, sound in character and has a profound reverence for the game of basketball.
Green was born in the state of Maryland like his Thunder teammate Kevin Durant. His leadership qualities weren’t readily apparent until is senior of high school at Northwestern High in Hyattsville, MD. That was the year he and the rest of the Wildcats hoisted the 2004 4A state championship.
He averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per game as a senior prep player. He was invited to play in the Jordan Brand Regional Game in 2004 and was a consensus pick for the Washington Post All-Metropolitan First Team.
In the Fall of 2004 Green landed as a gift, along with Roy Hibbert, into the arms of Georgetown University head coach John Thompson III in Thompson III’s first year at the controls. Thompson III didn’t recruit Green or Hibbert, but that didn’t stop him from making the duo the focus of his Princeton Offense and stifling brand of defense.
Thompson III’s offensive system is predicated on back door cuts to the basket, constant motion on and off the ball and can only be successful when team chemistry is at its peak. This style of basketball requires so much discipline, quick cognitive recognition and structure that Thompson III felt the need to name a team captain every year to act as the floor general on the court. Jeff Green was captain of the Hoyas from 2005-2007.
In 2005, Green was named Co-Big East rookie of the year with Rudy Gay of the University of Connecticut. Green averaged 13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and shot a cool 50 percent from the field as a freshman at Georgetown. Gay averaged 11.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and shot 46 percent from the field.
Thompson III boasted to Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated in a 2006 interview that, “Jeff Green is the smartest player I’ve ever coached.”
In 2007, Green led the Hoyas to a 30-7 record and its first Big East Conference tournament title since 1989. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, Big East Player of the Year and was a consensus pick for the All-Big East First Team along with teammate Roy Hibbert.
In that same 2007 season, Green showed his sense of the moment, too. In the NCAA tournament he hit a game winner with 2.5 seconds left in regulation to secure a win over the Vanderbilt Commodores in the Sweet 16. Green would go on to lead the Hoyas pass the No.1 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels and to their first Final Four appearance since 1985; the last year Georgetown won a national championship.
By the end of the NCAA tournament Green was considered a top 10 lock for the 2007 NBA Draft. Going into the draft most experts compared his game with that of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lamar Odom because his athletic ability, along with his 6’9″ frame, allows him to function at the small forward, power forward and center positions on the floor.
It’s hard to believe that’s the same guy that seemingly went into a shell in a Final Four showdown against Greg Oden, Daequan Cook and the rest of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. In the biggest game of his college career he had just nine points and virtually nonexistent on the court.
The knock on Green isn’t his toughness or his ability, but his willingness to embrace the big moment. As a top 10 pick the “superstar” nomenclature for Green was a given and fans, coaches and teammates expected him to live up to all that being a superstar entails.
Questions were immediately raised about the physicality of Green’s game once he entered the draft leading to the belief that he could have been a huge bust, but that did not stop him from being one of the top picks in NBA draft. Green was taken as the fifth overall pick to the Boston Celtics just three spots behind the Thunder’s first pick and the second overall pick in the draft, Kevin Durant.
Green was later involved in a trade that the NBA still feels ripple effects of. Approaching the 2007 NBA Draft, the Seattle SuperSonics and the Boston Celtics engineered a trade that involved sending Ray Allen and Glen Davis to the Celtics and Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and Green to the SuperSonics.
For Green, the end product of his rookie season in the NBA was a selection to the NBA All-Rookie Team along with teammate Kevin Durant. He averaged 10.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in the 2007-2008 season.
Last season Green raised his scoring average by six points and his rebounds per game went from 4.7 to 6.6.
This past July and August, Green was one of 15 players who had a legitimate chance of making Team USA’s final roster to represent the United States at the FIBA World Championships. He, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo were the last three players cut by Team USA head coach Mike Kryzewski and Team USA national director, Jerry Colangelo.
Green’s confidence in himself and his teammates is best described in a December 2009 interview with Nike Basketball.
“When you have confidence in yourself, you know eventually you’ll have confidence in your team,” Green explained. “You can pass it to anybody and have faith that they’ll make the play. And I think that comes over time – it’s not something that happens overnight. But when you work and you see your teammates work, that’s when you become confident in everyone’s ability to get the job done. It’s something that you just have to continue to work on.”
Even after being labeled a potential NBA bust, the turmoil surrounding his last collegiate game and a trade to the SuperSonics he could have never seen coming, Green has kept to his mantra of being the consummate teammate and high character person.
Now Green is one of the lynchpins of a dynamic, young Thunder team that has unfinished business in the Western Conference playoffs.