Also, Green turns 26 in August. He knows that still sounds young, but it feels old when the kid next to you in class is 19 or 20, and keeps bugging you every minute for inside information on the Boston Celtics.
“It was last summer, a kid from Boston who knew who I was,” Green recalled. “He did the old, ‘What’s Kevin Garnett really like?’ And he wouldn’t stop. After a while, it wasn’t so bad. But I didn’t really know him, and I just wanted to pass the class.”
He spent many evenings at Thomas Sweet’s ice cream shop at the corner of Wisconsin and P streets. At 6 feet 9, he would occasionally get a “Didn’t you play at Georgetown?” Worse, he felt the judgmental glances he thought meant one thing: Can’t Jeff Green move on with his life? He’s still hanging around Georgetown years after he left school?
“I almost wanted to tell people, ‘Dude, I’m not that guy. I don’t want to be that guy. I’m actually still taking classes, trying to graduate,’ ” he recalled. “A lot of the experience was humbling. But, mostly, I gotta say: it was rewarding. Really rewarding. I’m not hating on guys that never go back to school or leave school early, but for me, it was an experience that made me who I am in many ways.”
See, when you grow up in a part of Hyattsville where you don’t meet many people who don’t look like you and think like you, college life opened his eyes in ways he never imagined.
“Even recently, I was taking a class on biblical passages where we would take, for instance, the Adam and Eve story and dissect it from many different perspectives,” Green said. “And part of me is thinking, ‘Wait, I didn’t grow up questioning anything about the Gospel.’ But we’re having these discussions among small classes, and they’re actually thought-provoking, making me think about things.” He laughs. “And I know if I don’t participate, I am not passing that class.”
The impressive part about Green walking across a stage in cap and gown Saturday is his commitment to getting his degree long before the bad news late last year.
On December 10, he signed a one-year, $9 million deal with Boston. But a week later, he had an aortic aneurysm diagnosed, which forced him to miss the 2011-12 season. Because of the surgery he failed his physical, which essentially revoked the Celtics’ qualifying offer. Following season-ending surgery, Green voiced his desire to return, and if everything goes well during workouts for teams, he’ll emerge as one of the league’s top free agents in July.
Even after his career resumes, he said he would have felt empty without the diploma. “I know that sounds weird, but you had to see how happy my friends looked when they graduated, what it meant,” Green said.
He had all the hoop credentials: Big East player of the year, the best player on a 2007 Final Four team that represented the school’s return to college basketball prominence. But he didn’t have the piece of paper that he wanted.
“Jon [Wallace] helped me a lot, encouraging me to do it,” he said. “It wasn’t easy. I dedicated four years of summer to school. This will be the first summer since I left I can actually relax and not go back to class. But I got my degree.
“When I think about how breathtaking and speechless I’m going to be — I still don’t know whether I’m going to cry or smile — I think I finally feel like a part of that family. Like I finally did what I came here to do when I signed my scholarship. Does that make sense?”
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.