After spending his first two college years at Hill JC in Hillsboro, Texas, Green transferred to UNLV for the 2015-16 season but found himself sidelined for most of his junior year due to knee and back ailments. That leaves the 6-foot-7 forward with just one season of eligibility remaining, and Green is determined to make something of it.
That explains Green’s approach to this past offseason. While everyone else associated with the program spent months fretting over coaching searches or NBA decisions or transfer options, Green kept his head down and focused on the only thing he could control: His final college season.
The results so far have been promising. Green started both of UNLV’s exhibition games last week and played well, and before Wednesday’s practice at the Thomas & Mack Center, he credited his offseason preparation as a springboard.
“Ever since last season ended, I’ve just been working and keeping up with my routine,” Green said. “I knew I was going to be back here, regardless of who was the coach. I wasn’t trying to get out of the situation. I was all-in from the jump. I had to prepare myself for the next season, no matter what was happening.”
Green never wavered. He never considered transferring. He never worried about who his next coach would be. He knew his final collegiate campaign was going to be spent playing for the Runnin’ Rebels, and he was motivated to make an impact. That meant solitary conditioning sessions and shooting drills, even during the weeks and months when there was no coaching staff in place, no oversight and no direction. Green was his own purpose.
He put himself on a diet—no more fast food or late-night snacks—and shed 25 pounds, which he felt was necessary in order to reduce the stress on his knees and back. Now noticeably leaner, Green says his mobility and flexibility have improved, and he looked quicker in UNLV’s exhibition games last week than he did in his limited playing time last season.
Green also spent a lot of time fine-tuning his greatest skill, which is his smooth outside shooting stroke. Though he’s not completely satisfied with his form at the moment—”I just have to continue getting my reps and putting up extra shots and I’ll be good to go,” he said—he made 4-of-8 from 3-point range in the Rebels’ two exhibitions last week, and as of now he looks like he might be the team’s top long-distance marksman.
In addition to his soft touch during exhibition play, Green’s all-around efficiency was intriguing. In 25.5 minutes, he averaged 13 points on 52.9-percent shooting, and UNLV outscored its opponents by 42 points with Green on the court. So while he may have gotten his shot at the starting lineup due to injuries to Dwayne Morgan and Cheickna Dembele, Green’s offseason dedication has put him in position to seize the opportunity.
How long Green keeps the power forward job will depend on more than his shooting. Marvin Menzies likes the added dimension a plus-shooting big man brings to the lineup, but he wants to see Green defend and rebound like a traditional power forward before committing to more playing time.
“He’s got to shore up some things defensively,” Menzies said. “The more he defends, the better chance he has of staying on the floor. We know he can shoot the ball. His interior presence has got to improve, especially when you go against guys with DI physicality.”
If that’s what it takes for Green to keep earning court time, he’s prepared to make it happen.
“Early in my career, defense and rebounding wasn’t really a big focus for me,” Green said. “But now, I’ve been putting a lot more effort into it and making more of my first priority. I know the scoring is going to come during the game, but if I can play defense and rebound, that’s going to help this team a lot more.”
The notion of Green being an opening night starter would have been ludicrous a year ago, or even a few months ago. But when UNLV tips off against South Alabama on Friday, look for the quiet senior who never lost focus to take the court and make an impact.