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March 20, 2013

Green scores great season in senior year

By: Jimmy Robertson

Thanks to a supportive family and an unmatched work ethic, Tech guard Erick Green puts together a season for the record books

Erick Green’s daily routine of hitting 300 shots paid off big time this season, as he earned the ACC’s Player of the Year honor.

The text came early in the morning, roughly six or seven hours after the Virginia Tech basketball team arrived home following a loss to Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.

Just hours removed from one of his worst performances of the season – if you can call a 16-point outing “bad” – Erick Green just wanted to sleep in and get some rest. He heard the phone vibrate, picked it up and recognized the number.

“Get your a** in the gym,” the text said.

Mom knows best, right?

Then again, Green is used to it. His mom is like an alarm clock, telling him every morning not to be in bed while someone else’s dreams are coming true.

That’s just the way things roll in the Green household, where you not only play for teammates and fans, but also for your parents and siblings. This quintessential American family from Winchester, Va., loves each other, certainly, but they also love competition and hold each other accountable. The standard is greatness, and none of them would have it any other way.

So with the tough love of his family pushing him on, Green stumbled out of bed on that cold February morning, got dressed, got in his car and trudged over to Tech’s Hahn Hurst Basketball Practice Facility, where he launched shot after shot, making 300 before departing, part of what has become a daily ritual for him.

He knew better than to expect sympathy after shooting 6 of 13 against the ’Canes, especially from his mom, Tami, a former guard at Howard University in the late 1980s. Pity is truly a dirty, four-letter word among this group, and while his dad, also named Erick, taught him the game in their driveway, his mom is his coach.

Notice the verb tense there.

“My dad would take me out and do drills and teach me how to shoot,” Green said. “Then my mom got involved. She was my first coach.”

Then he added, with a smile, “She’s been ‘Coach Green’ ever since.”

Green’s path to basketball stardom started in this small enclave in Virginia’s northwest corner. He got plenty of practice playing basketball because of all the young children at his house. He has three younger sisters (he also has a half brother), and not only that, Tami Green works as the director of social services in Frederick County. Her job has led to more than a dozen young foster children having stayed in the Green’s home over the years.

As a young kid, Green struggled to understand why the foster kids came and went. As he grew older, though, he became more sage about the situation, though always disappointed when they left.

“When I was younger, I didn’t really understand,” he said. “They were in the house, and the attention was toward them. I was kind of jealous. Our parents paid us mind, but it wasn’t the attention we were used to, and I didn’t like that.

“But when you get older, you appreciate it because those kids have nothing. A lot of them have nothing coming in, so you’ve got to teach your sisters to understand and be appreciative of all we get and the things our parents do.

“The best thing is that every kid we’ve had loved basketball, loved the game. We didn’t even have to force them. They’d ask us to teach them. It was great to have someone else around.”

Both of Green’s parents worked – his dad is the supervisor of the Prince William County Juvenile Facility – but both took time to teach and coach him. Between that, his siblings playing against him and all the foster children helping him and inspiring him, Green gradually became one of the best players in Virginia. During his junior year, he led Millbrook High to Virginia’s Group AA title.

Despite that, he wasn’t getting very many looks from college recruiters, who viewed him as a little too scrawny for their liking. So to enhance his visibility, he and his family decided it best that he transfer to Paul VI for his senior season, a private school in Fairfax, Va., that played in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference – arguably the best basketball league in the Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia area.

The move, though, came with a price.

“I missed my friends,” he said. “Then having people spray paint on my driveway that I was a sellout, that was tough. When I went back for games, people would call me a sellout. It really sucked. It did, but I had to sacrifice for my career.”

The move paid off. Green helped guide Paul VI to the Virginia Independent Schools state title, and he got a little more attention from college recruiters. He looked at VCU. St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli offered him a scholarship and brought him to campus for a visit, and James Madison offered him a scholarship as well.

“Martelli called me while I was at a high school football game and offered me a scholarship,” Green said. “I liked him, but I just didn’t like Philly at all.”

But Green did like a George Mason assistant named James Johnson – the current Tech head coach. Johnson served on George Mason’s staff under Jim Larranaga, now the Miami head coach, and he had been keeping tabs on Green since Green was a 15 year old.

When Johnson got an assistant’s job at Tech under former coach Seth Greenberg, he convinced Greenberg to offer Green a scholarship. The young man signed with the Hokies, wanting to play in the ACC.

“Everywhere I went, Coach Johnson was there,” Green said. “If I was at an AAU tournament, he was there. He believed in me. I had a great relationship with Coach J.J., and my mom and dad loved J.J. I go off their opinion a lot, and I just stuck with J.J.”

Green struggled his first season at Tech – badly, in fact. He got to play quite a bit, but he averaged 2.6 points per game and shot just 29.3 percent from the floor. Things got worse as the season went along, too, as he scored just four points in Tech’s final 10 games that season.

He seriously doubted himself and whether he was an ACC player. He contemplated transferring, and actually, had decided to do just that until a phone conversation with sister Courtni late in the season changed his perspective.

“I sent her a text and told her I was going to come home, that it wasn’t working out,” Green said. “I was seeing things that people were saying, and it hurt me.

“But she told me to suck it up and that things would work out. She kept feeding me positive things and told me to hang in there and that I would be okay. So I stayed, and it worked out.”

It also helped that Johnson kept a close eye on his recruit. He constantly gave Green positive feedback, knowing that the young man hadn’t reached his potential and never would if he departed.

“We believe in you and we wouldn’t have recruited you if we didn’t believe in you,” Johnson told him. “But there is a difference in coming from high school to the ACC. It’s a step up, and you’ve got to continue to work on your game and continue to believe in yourself because we believe in you.”

Green obviously turned a corner. He averaged 11.6 points per game as a sophomore, and as a junior, averaged 15.6 per game on his way to earning All-ACC honors.

This season, he took it to another level, but that ascension actually began last summer. He committed himself to being better than good. He committed himself to being the best.

Every morning, he’d come to Tech’s practice facility and get up shots. He worked on different moves, like his favorite step-back move or coming off ball screens. He worked on game-like situations. He shot free throws. He forced himself to make 300 shots each morning, and often, he came back to the gym later to shoot even more or to play in pick-up games with his teammates.

“I think I made more than 20,000 shots,” he said. “But I probably shot so many more. It’s something I’d recommend to anybody.”

Green kept the routine and attributes it to his tremendous senior season. He was averaging 25.4 points per game – leading the nation at press time – and broke Tech’s single-season scoring record of 785 points set by Bimbo Coles in 1989-90. His 35-point outburst in the regular-season finale against Wake Forest gave him 786 points for the season.

“I’ve talked with my guys about that, and I’m sure there are other coaches around the country who are using that,” Johnson said of Green’s work ethic. “The kid goes from two points a game as a freshman to leading the nation in scoring.

“That shows what hard work can do for you, and that’s the way we want to build this program. Those are the types of kids I want to get in the program.”

Green earned first-team All-ACC honors this season and was named the ACC’s player of the year even though Tech went 4-14 in ACC play this season.

As he gets set to embark on the next phase of his life, he has no regrets.

Erick Green won over Tech fans the past two seasons, many
of whom were skeptical after his freshman year when he averaged
2.6 points per game and shot just 29.3 percent from the floor.

“I’ve had a lot of great accomplishments,” he said. “I wish we could have had more team victories, but individually … I sit with my mom and dad and laugh. From my freshman year to here, who would have thought I would have been the nation’s leading scorer? I do take time to think back to how far I’ve come.

“I don’t have any regrets at all. I’ve got great relationships with the coaches. The community has been great. Everywhere I go, I get a lot of love. And these teammates, man, these are the best group of teammates. It’s been great.”

Green graduates in May with a degree in sociology. After that, he hopes to get a chance in the NBA. Certainly, he’ll be playing professional basketball somewhere.

When basketball runs its course, he’ll have options. He may get into law enforcement or work with kids. He loves kids.

Heck, he wouldn’t mind being a coach one day, though he knows it might become a family affair, as everything between the Green family and all things basketball is. Would he hire his mom as an assistant coach?

“I’d hire her, but I think we’d butt heads a lot,” he said, laughing. “She feels she’s always right, and I think I’m always right. But she’d be on my staff, for sure.”

His smile says it all. His family means the world to him. So, too, does his Hokie family.

It’s certainly not a stretch to say that he’s meant the same to them as well, probably more.

What they said about Erick Green

“I thought going to Virginia Tech, you know, he would have a very nice career, but he’s developed into the leading scorer in the country. That’s a whole ’nother level. When everybody’s attention is on you, you’re going to get every defender’s best effort. You’re getting every team’s best defender on the perimeter. It is very, very hard to continue to produce the way he has. It’s a remarkable accomplishment by him.”

- Miami coach Jim Larranaga

“He's what college basketball and ACC basketball is supposed to be all about. Here is a guy who every year has made significant improvements, and has stayed the course in terms of becoming a great player. He averages two points a game as a freshman and now he's averaging 26.

“I'd be hard-pressed for anybody to find that kind of jump, No. 1, if they are pressed, find anybody with that kind of jump in college basketball, and then that kind of jump where a kid stayed at the same school. Usually the kids are like, 'I'm outta here.' You give him credit for his steadfastness and understanding that Virginia Tech was going to be a place where he could excel at.”

- Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory

“He’s just a handful. He’s a guy who’s clever with the ball. He made three or four real tough shots that we couldn’t let any players on our team take. Some of those shots, those floaters, I can’t imagine how he practices those shots. He’s very quick and fast, and he’s flipping them before he even leaves the ground, which keeps any defender off balance. He has a uniqueness about his game that he’s very clever in using.”

- Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton

“We’re thinking about playing a box and one. Four guys on him and one guy in the middle of the lane.

“We tried to keep fresh guys on him. Nothing works against him because he’s really, really good. And they set a lot of screens, and they’re legal screens. They’re just hard to get through.”

- North Carolina coach Roy Williams