The liberation of Gerald Green
There is no red light that can stop Gerald Green. It didn't stop him when, after expecting to be picked between No. 3 and No. 6 in the NBA draft, he fell all the way down to the 18th. It didn't stop him when everyone told him he wasn't ready for the NBA and was sent to D-League. With a season under his belt and the confidence of his coaching staff, Green wants to prove there is no use in trying to stop him.
Upon his announcement to forgo college, the Gulf Shores Academy graduating senior was considered one of the top ten prospects entering the draft. He had a silky smooth mid-range jump shot and his performance in the McDonalds All-America Game proved that he had inconceivable athleticism. All of those factors would propel the young Houston, Texas native into the national spotlight as he was selected to be one of the many ESPN would follow in its green room coverage – a selection provided for those who are almost locks to be drafted in the lottery. That would make the sequence of events all the more nauseating for Green.
Team after team passed on him. Cameras locked into a stoic Green as he almost became the Rashard Lewis story of the 2005 draft. How could a can’t-miss prospect like Green be passed over the likes of semi-unknown players like Yaroslav Korolev?
The thing about Green is while no one questioned his talent, many questioned his work ethic – which they say didn’t bode well for a high school kid trying to make the NBA. The fact that Green avoided full-contact practices during draft workouts had many scouts and GMs wondering about his commitment to playing in the league. Hence the top 10 prospect dropped to No. 18. As cameras zoomed into a visibly heartbroken Green, he walked up to the podium to shake David Stern’s hand and put on his Celtics hat. Despite not having the grand entrance into the NBA that he expected, Green believes Boston was the best possible situation he could have ended up in.
“Still to this day, I am disappointed," Green says. "However, I am truly blessed with the fact that I am with the Boston Celtics. I am not mad that I didn’t get drafted (in the lottery). I am actually happy because this is probably the best team that I could be with.”
If there is anyone whose last name could be symbolic of his status as an NBA player entering the league, it’s Gerald. To say Gerald Green was a green rookie entering the league is an understatement. His often tentative play led many to question how long his development as an NBA player would take.
"At the beginning of the year, I thought we were a couple of years away before we even saw him on the floor," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers recently told the Providence Journal.
Adding to the disappointment that he faced on draft night, Green was told by his coach and GM Danny Ainge that he needed some time in the NBA’s minor league, the D-League. Realizing the depth the Celtics featured at the perimeter positions, Green saw the positives in getting some extra playing time and excelled.
“At first I didn’t really like the idea, I didn’t want to go at all," Green recalls. "However, after going there for the first couple of days, I started to love it. You’re always working, you’re always playing and you had no choice but to get better unless you wanted to sit there and do nothing... It wasn’t like you were sitting back watching, you were actually learning.”
It was during his D-League experience that Green was able to regain his confidence.
“(Coach Rivers) just told me to go out there and be comfortable in everything that I do both on the offense and defense. At the beginning, I wasn’t really getting it. I didn’t know whether or not he wanted me to be aggressive on just the offense or just the defense. At the end, when I started playing a lot more, he saw that I was finally getting comfortable out there.”
“He's become a great listener, he's learning how to focus,” Rivers said. "I think his time will keep increasing throughout this year, and next year he'll be on the floor. I couldn't have told you that at the beginning of the year."
Green wouldn’t allow his demotion to the D-League or his draft experiences affect his motivation to prove what he was capable of. In fact, the normally modest Green admitted that he uses the 17 teams that passed over him as motivation.
“Every team that skipped on me, hopefully one day I’ll make them pay for not picking me,” he says.
Green also thinks that having the opportunity to practice with Paul Pierce will ultimately help him reach his goals as a player.
“I try to earn my way," Green says. "When I sit on the bench, I don’t just sit around. I try to get a view. I try to sit down and watch. How he does it, how hard he works… I kind of use that as motivation because I hope to be that way one day. I want to be well known around the league like that one day. So I just try to sit back and watch, hopefully learning."
Even more encouraging for Green is how well he has performed against the superstar guard during practices. Ainge once told the Boston media there were days when no one on the Celtics roster could guard him during practice, including Pierce. Possibly seeing the vast potential in Green, the five-time All-Star has reached out to the 19-year-old offering to help him during his transition into the NBA.
“All those guys on the Celtics. Paul, Tony (Allen), Kendrick (Perkins)... They all go if you need anything, holla at me. That’s pretty big, you know, especially someone like Paul. Guys who are really role models to me willing to talk me in my rookie year, that’s kind of big.”
Green is excited by several of the moves Ainge has made as well as his expanded role coming into the 2006-07 season. He feels the addition of another former high school phenom in Sebastian Telfair, whom he developed a friendship with during his time in the summer league last season, will add another dimension to the Celtics' offense with his ability to create open shots for teammates.
While Coach Rivers hasn’t given Green any indication as to what his role might be this season, Green knows that the progress made last season and his renewed focus should lead to some valuable playing time off the bench.
“(I can see myself) being that energy guy off the bench… I don’t know what role he has for me this season, but whatever it is, I’ll work towards it. I’ll do whatever he wants me to do,” Green says.
Somewhere Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge are smiling together, knowing that their gamble is about to cash in.
Alex Labidou works for ABC News and Vibe
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