Gerald Green is a long way from the comforts of home in Houston -- his mother's home cooking, his father's heavy-handed guidance and his three prized pit bulls -- and a very long way from being the player who wasn't good enough to make his high school team as a freshman and a sophomore.
Green is in Boston, adjusting to a frigid climate unlike anything he witnessed in his first 19 years. With the exception of two high school buddies he invited to stay with him, Green is basically on his own, learning how to cook and clean (when he has to) and transitioning from being the top-rated player in his high school class to being an NBA benchwarmer for the Celtics.
"Ever since I played basketball, I always played. Even though I'm not playing, I'm not suiting up, either," said Green, who has been on the inactive list in all but one of the Celtics' 19 games this season. "So, it's kind of like I've got three steps to make. Actually, I got four steps to make. First, I got to suit up. Then, I got to play. Then I got to start. Then, I'm trying to be an all-star. I want to be one of the greatest players. It's some steps for me."
This is the final season that players will be allowed to enter the NBA directly out of high school. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the league will no longer accept players unless they are at least 19 years old and one year removed from their high school graduating class.
The decision was controversial, considering the success of such preps-to-pros stars as Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. But because many of the players dropped from high school hallways onto NBA doorsteps -- including all-stars Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady -- were forced to languish on the end of the bench in their first season, the league opted to go with seasoning over sizzling potential.
Green is in this last group of high school players allowed to enter the league, a group that has done nothing to contradict arguments in favor of the age minimum. Green and Detroit's Amir Johnson have yet to play. Portland's Martell Webster is the only player who has started a game. The Lakers' Andrew Bynum has received a few meaningful minutes, while the others, including Washington's Andray Blatche have had minimal impact.
"I don't think any of them should come out of high school and come to the pros," said Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, whose son, Jeremiah, is a senior in high school. "It's the whole maturity thing. Going to college two years allows you to grow up and mature. Forget the basketball. You can become a better basketball player playing against Paul Pierce. I believe that. But the maturity part. The fact that every high school player coming out, they don't know about life or anything."
Green, a raw, 6-foot-8, through-the-roof leaper, isn't shy about revealing his frustrations. He recently responded to a generic introductory questions with a loaded one-word answer.
"How's it going?" a visitor asked.
"Tough," said Green, his droopy eyes expressing the unpleasant feeling.
Green then grabbed a seat in front of his locker, rubbed his burgeoning Afro and stared blankly. Film of the Celtics' opponent this night, the Philadelphia 76ers, was on the plasma screen in front of him, but Green wasn't studying it too hard. He knew he wasn't going to play. When a Celtics strength and conditioning coach asked Green if he wanted to get in some extra work before the game, Green grimaced and declined, citing a nagging groin injury that has set back his progress in recent weeks and limited him to a spectator, even in practice.
Green didn't know what to expect when he decided to bypass a scholarship to Oklahoma State and take his 43-inch vertical jump to the NBA out of Houston's Gulf Shores Academy. While he didn't imagine doing shoe commercials and making "SportsCenter" highlights right away, Green certainly didn't anticipate needing dress code-compliant attire to wear on the bench for the entire season. He often watches Celtics games in the locker room with the team's video coordinator.
For about two months, Green lived in a two-bedroom condo near the Celtics' practice facility in Waltham, Mass. with Michael Crotty, the team's director of player development. Team president Danny Ainge assigned Crotty, a 24-year-old native of Belmont, Mass., to help Green get settled. Crotty has since moved out and Green recently brought up two of his friends, who are going through the transition with him, learning where to grocery shop and how to cook a steak. Green claims to have already mastered fried chicken, shrimp and a difficult challenge -- rice. "I didn't know how to cook nothing," he said. "One time, I messed up on the rice. I put in too much water. It was real watery. I'm better now."
A bigger challenge, of course, was his unlikely rise to the NBA. Until arriving at Dobie High School in suburban Houston, he had never even played organized basketball. Green was cut as a freshman and again as a sophomore. He was invited back as a sophomore only after another player quit -- and Green agreed to the team's no-braids policy.
Green played another year at Dobie before transferring to Gulf Shores Academy, where he reclassified himself as a junior (to make up for the season of basketball he had lost) and discovered his game. After winning MVP of the prestigious Reebok ABCD Camp in 2004, Green averaged 33 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists as a fifth-year senior. He went on to dominate the McDonald's All-American Game, scoring a game-high 24 points, and decided he no longer needed to go to college.
"Going to college was a goal for me, but I'd rather achieve my dream than achieve my goal," explained Green, who said he still intends to fulfill a promise to his parents to get his college degree.
Green was expected to be drafted anywhere from third to No. 10, but he had to hold back tears as he watched team after team look over him until the Celtics snatched him with the 18th pick. "I felt stranded," Green said. "Boston rescued me."
After signing a two-year contract worth $2.8 million, Green quickly put his skills on display for the Celtics' summer league team in Las Vegas, where in one game he took off from just outside the paint and slammed a vicious baseline dunk that was so impressive fans in attendance lined up to purchase it on DVD.
The Celtics were well aware of Green's athletic ability, but they also knew that he was, well, green. Though he will turn 20 on Jan. 26, Green was too lanky and unpolished -- and not ready to handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule. Not to mention the Celtics were already loaded at that position with Ricky Davis and all-star swingman Paul Pierce.
Ainge has turned the Celtics into a day-care center of sorts, selecting Green, Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins out of high school in the past three drafts. Whereas Jefferson, a hulking forward with instinctive low post skills, became an immediate contributor last season, averaging 14.8 minutes as a rookie, Ainge said they will probably bring Green along in a similar fashion to Perkins, who played a total of 35 minutes his rookie year but is now the team's starting center.
Ainge said he won't rush Green until he bulks up and gets a better understanding of the game. "We didn't want to draft high school kids and make stars out of them right away," Ainge said. "Our game plan is the same. Teach him to be a pro. Teach him a work ethic. He wants to be good. He doesn't understand what that is, like all high school kids. We're very happy with where Gerald is. The only time we would lose favor with Gerald is if he stops doing his work, if he's satisfied with making it in the league. He's been the exact opposite."
Perkins, who said his first season was equally frustrating, has preached patience to Green. "Everybody that goes out of high school ain't going to be a LeBron or a Dwight Howard. Sometimes you got to wait your time," said Perkins, who has connected with Green since the two hail from Texas.
The Celtics have considered sending Green to their development league team in Florida. To date, only six of the league's 30 NBA teams have sent players to the D-League, but none of those players sent down have jumped directly from high school. While not ruling out the possibility, Ainge said the Celtics will take a wait-and-see approach with Green. "I'll just keep working hard and hopefully they won't send me," Green said.
He has used his bench time as motivation to work harder. The energetic teen is hardly ever at rest. He'll sometimes do pushups while watching film. "The way he shows frustration is coming in for another workout," Crotty said. "So, he can be frustrated all year, because he's going to get better and better."
Green said he often speaks with his AAU coach, Rick Nelson, whose 6 a.m. training sessions have been credited for helping Green rise up the ranks in high school basketball. "I tell him, 'Remember you belong there. Your day is coming.' " Nelson said. "This has been going on since high school. He always had to wait. But at the end of the day, he always prevailed and he always comes out on top."
Rivers was prepared to activate Green after Delonte West went down with a hip bruise three weeks ago, but shortly after West was injured, Green pulled his groin while dunking during a pregame workout in Charlotte. Rivers told Green what the mishap cost him. The next day, Green had perked up, was miraculously healed and ready to practice. He was finally activated for the game against Charlotte, but he didn't play. And, in his eagerness to get back quickly, he aggravated the injury, placing him back on the inactive list.
Before getting hurt, Green had proven to be a feisty competitor. His youthful exuberance has made him the team's adopted little brother. "I haven't seen him back away from something he doesn't know or a challenge at all," Crotty said. "To have that, paired with a great attitude, that's what excites me the most. Not the fact that I could stand over there and he could broad jump over me and dunk the ball. That's exciting too, but I feel lucky to have been around him when he was younger, because I really believe he's going to be a special player and everyone will know who Gerald Green is."
Rivers has marveled at Green's ability to get off his shot "any time he wants" and said he can see why Green has been compared to McGrady, whom Rivers coached for more than three seasons in Orlando. "He's a confident kid," Rivers said. "The thing I like about him, when he loses, in his mind, he never lost."
Rivers said he saw Green playing reserve guard Tony Allen one-on-one recently. Green blew past Allen but later missed the layup. Allen rebounded the ball and hit the game-winning shot. "Aw, you lost Gerald," Rivers said. "No," Green told him, "I missed the layup." Another time, Rivers spotted Green losing on the pool table in the players' lounge. "Aw, you lost Gerald," Rivers said. "No," Green said, "I knocked in the eight ball."
Rivers hopes that Green's "never lose" attitude will make Rivers look like a fool one day. "I love prove-it-the-coach players. I told him, 'When I put you on the [inactive] list, I hope you prove it was the worst mistake I ever made,' " Rivers said. "I hate the guys that say, 'I'm a year away.' How do you know that? I don't want him to say, 'I'm not ready yet.' I don't want him to say, 'I'm not good enough yet.' I want him to say, 'I am good enough. I am ready. I'm just going to keep pushing it and prove it to the coach.' "
Green's locker is situated next to Pierce, one of the players Green grew up admiring. Pierce, who is in his eighth season, has offered Green doses of tough love and encouragement. He often tells Green the story of a player who constantly rode the bench but scored 20 points in his debut and never sat again. Pierce didn't bother giving Green the name of the player, and whether the story is true or not matters little to Green, who is just hoping to someday get his chance.
"It's kind of like I ran before I crawled," Green said. "Now, it's a little harder for me, so I've got to catch up with my footsteps."