If Green played with a chip on his shoulder, he never brought it with him once the game was over. Almost an hour after the game was over Thursday, he was leaned against a wall just outside the Virginia Tech locker room, still in uniform patiently answering questions. His teammates were dressed and heading for the bus. Green appeared to be in no rush.
“Honestly, it never occurred to me that we weren’t going to win today,” he said softly. He paused again and shook his head. “College really does fly by. Every year goes by faster.” He smiled. “If I ever get a chance to talk to kids I’ll tell them, ‘When you get to college, savor every second because it’s going to be over before you know it.’ ”
Johnson first began recruiting Green as an assistant to Greenberg when Green was 15 years old. Johnson talked at length during his postgame news conference about what a wonderful player Green had become. As Johnson talked, Green sat next to him, seemingly in a daze.
Then Johnson stopped talking about basketball. “He’s a better kid than he is a player,” he said. “He’s going to graduate on time in four years in May.”
At that moment Green snapped out of his reverie, sat up, smiled and nodded his head enthusiastically. Clearly, he understood that as much as it hurt, the end of college basketball was only the beginning of his life.
A few minutes earlier, when he walked off the court, he looked up into the stands to where his parents, Erick and Tamara, were sitting. He is the oldest of their five children and, like everyone else in the Virginia Tech section, they were on their feet.
“I looked up and saw my mom and dad,” Green said. “My mom looked at me and just mouthed, ‘I love you.’ ”
Erick Green smiled one last time while wearing a Virginia Tech uniform. “That was all I needed,” he said. “It’s a sad day but it’s a happy day, too.”
The sadness is there for every player who walks off the court and into a locker room for the last time. For some players, though, it can be tinged with a special feeling of pride because they know they have given absolutely everything they had give to their team, their teammates and their school.
Erick Green could leave the building Thursday knowing he had done exactly that.
For more by John Feinstein, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein.