By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 3, 2007
Patrick Ewing had the dunk, his long arm driving the ball through the basket with authoritative might. Alonzo Mourning had the blocked shot, rejecting the ball into the stands with an accompanying scowl. Allen Iverson had the crossover, the flash and panache that broke defenders down.
Jeff Green, asked to describe what epitomizes him as a basketball player, answers without hesitation.
"Handling the ball at the top and hitting my guy going backdoor on the bounce pass," Green says. "That's my favorite play. I love throwing the bounce pass to my teammates."
The first prominent player of Georgetown basketball's next century has an old school game and a laid-back demeanor, which sets him apart on the Hilltop, where the personalities of the coaches and players have been so strong and defined.
He cut off his long braids -- which gave him a distinctive look and the nickname "Predator" as a freshman -- because he wanted a more "grown man" look. He doesn't have a single tattoo. Deferential even though he is clearly the best player on the ninth-ranked Hoyas, Green describes himself as the Robin to 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert's Batman.
Should Green grab four rebounds today against Connecticut in the Hoyas' final home game of the season, he will join Reggie Williams, one of the school's all-time greats, as the only players in program history to amass at least 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 300 assists. Next Tuesday, he could be named Big East player of the year, becoming the first Hoya to win the award since Mourning in 1992.
If Green does win -- which would make him only the sixth player to be named both the Big East rookie of the year and player of the year -- it will be a testament to his versatility, not his scoring or any one incredible gift belonging to Hoyas of the past. Green is averaging 13.5 points this season, which leads the Hoyas but is only 22nd in the conference.
"You kind of distinguish a player on what he's great at and what he's bad at, but you can't say that Jeff is bad at anything," junior forward Patrick Ewing Jr. said. "Every aspect of his game is a step ahead of everybody else."
"Jeff Green is a basketball player," Coach John Thompson III said. "When you start trying to label him, saying he's a big guy or a small guy, all of a sudden he does things that are the opposite of what you were saying. He is a basketball player. I can put him at any spot on the floor, and he can have success."
Green leads Georgetown in assists and is second in rebounding, blocked shots and made three-pointers. Ewing Jr. likes to refer to Green as a "new-age Scottie Pippen," which is appropriate, considering that the former Chicago Bull is Green's favorite player. One of Green's goals is to record a triple-double -- which would be only the second in program history (Mourning has the other) -- and he came close in the win at Villanova (19 points, 9 rebounds, 8 blocked shots).
Three Hoyas are asked to describe their ultimate Jeff Green play, and it is illustrative of Green's versatility that they come up with three different answers, none of which involves him scoring.
Ewing Jr. picks a blocked shot: "The other team will have a fast-break layup or dunk, and then you'll just see Jeff come out of nowhere and sky over whoever it is and make the play. . . . You're just like, 'Wow, how did he do that?' "
Junior guard Jonathan Wallace chooses a rebound: "Whenever we need a big rebound on a key possession, you'll see Jeff flying in out of nowhere and he'll come get it. We kind of count on him for those kind of things."
Thompson III picks a steal and an assist: "The play against Pittsburgh, where we were on defense, there's a loose ball, and Jeff went and got the ball. It was clearly not his possession, and he goes through a couple of people, got the ball, turned, pivoted and threw a perfect pass to his teammate [Jessie Sapp] streaking down for a layup. That's Jeff Green."
Green and Thompson III -- who both came to Georgetown in 2004, the All-Met from Northwestern High and the coach from Princeton -- are similar in temperament, focus and the way they approach the game.
In some ways, Green is an extension of Thompson on the court; not only does he know where he should be, but he knows where every one of his teammates should be as well. Thompson has said that Green is the smartest player he has ever coached, and from Day One, Green seemed to have an innate understanding of the coach's Princeton-style motion offense.
"Jeff knows the offense like the back of his hand," Hibbert said earlier this season. "Jeff sees things two or three plays down later. I'm just like, 'What's going on now?' He has some type of power."
"He's my security blanket to me being Linus," said Thompson, who was also a great passing forward as a player at Princeton. "Winning is important to Jeff. That is something that's been the case from day one. It's not statistics, it's not numbers, it's not what people are saying."
So Green brushes off questions about potentially becoming the sixth Hoya to be named Big East player of the year. ("I think about our team becoming the number one team in the Big East. I don't think about the individual awards.")
Or the possibility that he could skip his senior season and jump to the NBA. ("I don't think about that. I want our team to win a championship. I'd be satisfied with that. I'm still young. . . . The NBA will come when it comes.")
Or the notion that his statistics are depressed because of the offensive system he plays in. ("I can go into a game and get 9 points and 10 rebounds and 7 assists. To me, that's great, but to other people I have to have 20 points. I like to have an all-around game; that's what matters to me.")
Green loves Georgetown's offense, because it gives him a chance to show off his diverse skills. Sometimes he'll work out of the low block and post up his defender. Other times he'll bring the ball up against the press, or get open on the wing for a three-pointer (he is a career 36.6 percent shooter from beyond the arc).
He seldom forces shots; he is the rare player who says that he doesn't want to take 30 shots per game. Green is averaging four more points (15.1) and four more shots (11.5) in Big East games than he did in nonconference play, but he doesn't attribute that increase to more aggression on his part. Instead, he credits his teammates with finding him when he's open, and his shots falling.
"Oh boy, he can play. He is one of those players that keeps getting better each time I see him," said Dave Gavitt, the former Big East commissioner who continues to closely follow the conference. "He lets the game come to him. . . . He understands movement without the ball because they're so good at it. He's not going to make a lot of mistakes."
Green's signature performance may have come in last season's upset of top-ranked and undefeated Duke, the game that vaulted the Hoyas back into national prominence. Green outplayed all-American forward Shelden Williams, scoring 18 points and adding seven assists -- at least half of which came off of his beloved backdoor bounce passes.
But Green is quick to note that there is more to him that just bounce passes. Two weeks ago, he scored the game-winning basket against Villanova off a midrange pull-up jump shot. One of his most talked-about plays as a high school senior was a thunderous dunk -- in which he took off from close to the foul line and soared between two defenders -- during the decisive final moments of a region final win over Eleanor Roosevelt.
"I like to throw bounce passes, but I will dunk the ball if necessary," Green said. "I can be a lot of different ways. I have a lot of different characters inside of me."