There’s a reason to cheer for Draymond Green in this NCAA tournament and it has nothing to do with liking the Spartans, or that his last name coincides with his school’s colors.
Green is a senior. And a star. Those two words, in college basketball, go together as often as “banana cream pie” and “zero calories.”
Yet here is Green, freshly selected the Big Ten player of the year, hot off a Big Ten tournament that he dominated, pegged as a big name to watch in the Big Dance, and he’s not 18, 19 or even 21. He is a 22-year-old force, on and off the floor.
These days, Green is also the last to leave Michigan State’s locker room – “every single day,” he says. He likes to sit and shoot the breeze with his younger teammates, sometimes for hours after practice is done. “And when you’ve already been at the gym for three, four, five hours and you could be going home, but you sit there joking around because you love being around each other, I think that says a lot about the team.”
Says something about Green, too. Says he’s a leader, says he knows what’s good for team chemistry. And it says he has got a twinge of something brewing that big body:
You can’t get that as a freshman – no matter how high you jump.
The right badge of honor
Do you remember your junior or senior year at college? Chances are they include some of your best memories.
Most college hoop stars never make those memories. Their higher education experience is like a train station at rush hour: arrive in a hurry, leave even faster. Many of the biggest names you will see in this year’s tournament will be gone to the NBA by next semester – despite only being freshmen or sophomores.
Not Green. He’s playing out the string.
“You know, it’s great and an honor to be one-and-done,” he says, “but I think that sometimes can hurt guys because you’re not as mature as you need to be at that level.
“I think staying all four years at Michigan State has really helped me mature as a man, but it also helped me mature as a basketball player, the whole process of changing my body, getting to learn more and more about the game.”
Now, it’s true. Green, who’s from Saginaw, was not ready for the NBA after his freshman or even sophomore year. But that hasn’t stopped other guys from jumping. In today’s game, it’s a badge of honor to leave college as a freshman, and a badge of something else to still be there as a senior. Had they stayed four years, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin would have been playing in last year’s NCAA tournament. Instead, they’re already NBA veterans – rich, famous and admired by millions.
But they are missing one thing that Green is not.
A full college experience.
Not a moment to waste
“From what I hear,” Green says, “on the next level – and every other level of basketball – it’s not the same. That’s why I stick around the locker room. I know I have to take advantage of it, because soon it’ll be over.”
NBA stars are happy with their money, but they will be the first to tell you the league is a business. Don’t get too comfortable; you can be gone at any time. The new guy wants your job and your minutes. And after practice, you’re on your own. Team meals? Come on. Team banquets? Are you kidding?
Green likes all that stuff. He’s taking in every minute of this final season. It is the reason he should be celebrated and appreciated even beyond his talents, because simply put, if more college basketball players aspired to be like Green – stay four years, get as polished as you can, enjoy your youth – then college basketball itself would be healthier, and the NBA might have a more mature workforce. Meanwhile, the Spartans’ big man cherishes each remaining practice, game and locker-room conversation. We often say youth is wasted on the young. Draymond Green isn’t wasting a minute.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).