Posted Apr 27 2012 7:57PM - Updated Apr 27 2012 9:45PM
Draymond Green, whose Michigan State career ended last month with his name being mentioned in the same sentence as Magic Johnson, Steve Smith and Mateen Cleaves, had this little game within a game he liked to play with some of the Spartans' opponents.
To call Green a film-room junkie doesn't begin to describe the degree to which he committed himself to pregame preparation. "You'll be sitting there watching film with Draymond," said Michigan State assistant coach Dwayne Stephens, "and you'll realize he's pointed out as many or more things than you've pointed out. He picks up on everything."
When Stephens says everything, he means everything. Sometimes, in the middle of a game when Green overheard an opposing player asking his teammate what play they were running, he couldn't resist the urge to interject.
"I'd tell them what to do and where to go," Green said, laughing at the recollection. "I took the film room very seriously. I wanted to know the other team's plays better than they knew their plays."
If refreshing an opponent's memory seems like it was giving away a competitive advantage, well, the numbers don't back that up. In Green's four seasons, the Spartans were 107-39, played in the national championship game in 2009 and reached the Final Four again in 2010. As for Green, it didn't much matter if he brought the player who was guarding him up to speed. Green was going to figure out a way to beat him anyway.
That explains why, at 6-foot-6, Green ended his career as the Spartans' all-time leader in rebounds (1,096). The man who had more tools on his belt than any player in college basketball says the simple, blue-collar task of chasing down missed shots is his favorite aspect of the game.
"You don't have to have much skill to rebound," Green said. "Rebounding is a complete effort stat. Of course it's about positioning, but at the end of the day, it's about who wants the ball more. And if you don't want it badly enough, someone else is going to get it."
Green tosses off little nuggets like that all the time. NBA teams that get a chance to interview him are going to love listening to him talk, because he believes what he says. Having had the good fortune of being taught at an early age the value of solid fundamentals and versatility, Green's a throwback to the NBA's glory days, when men were men and players weren't categorized so much by position. They just played the game.
That could be why, when reaching for adjectives after Green tagged his team with 17 points and 16 boards a couple of years ago, former Illinois coach Bruce Weber compared Green to Charles Barkley.
When you play at Michigan State, there are even more apt comparisons.
"Magic was a true guard," Stephens said. "Draymond's not a guard. But he does have the IQ and feel for the game that Magic had. And in terms of being a great teammate, I'd have to say he's second maybe to Mateen Cleaves as a Michigan State guy. I wasn't here when Mateen was here, but I watched him from afar, and I've heard the stories.
"You see a lot of the same things from Draymond. And like Mateen, we asked him to do quite a bit. He held our team together. He had the respect of his teammates, on and off the floor."
How can you not respect a first-team All-American who says stuff like this: "I love passing, because you get somebody else involved. I'd much rather pass the ball and get somebody a basket than score myself."
Green proved that over and over again. In 2011-12, Green racked up seven games of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, tying Ohio State's Evan Turner with the most by a power conference player since 1996-97.
And in the NCAA Tournament, Green placed himself in the best of company when he rang up 24 points, 12 boards and 10 assists against LIU Brooklyn. The triple-double was his second in the NCAAs, following a little 23-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist number against UCLA last season. Only two other players in history put together a pair of triple doubles in the tournament. Oscar Robertson was the first. Magic was the second.
"I think we have one of the more versatile players in America in Draymond," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said during the tournament. "There are a lot of guys that can hurt you in rebounding or hurt you in scoring or some point guards with assists, and there are some great defensive players. But not many times is somebody able to capture all of those things where he can be not average, but pretty good at all of them, [and] maybe great at two things.
"The two would be his leadership skills and his intelligence. He has an incredible basketball IQ. Those two things, I'd say, he's phenomenal at. The others he's very good at."
Green picked up some new fans in the NCAA Tournament, even though the Spartans' stay was a bit shorter than a lot of people expected, ending in the Sweet 16.
"He's a play through me, high scorer, volume points, excellent rebounder, defends," Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus said. ... "Of all the high scorers in America, collegiately at every level, he probably lets the game come to him more than anyone else, which is a great testimony to the kid."
Said Louisville coach Rick Pitino: "He's about the most complete player in college basketball in terms of all phases of the game."
In the next seven weeks, NBA teams will try to figure out if all Green's skills translate to the next level. We've gotten this far and haven't even mentioned the fact he's turned himself into a good 3-point shooter with NBA range. So what's not to like?
The issue with Green, say scouts and draft gurus, is defense. Who will he guard? Conventional wisdom suggests that Green won't be quick enough to guard an NBA small forward, or big enough to check a power forward. But then again, he could be one of those guys to whom conventional wisdom doesn't apply.
"He can defend in the NBA," Stephens said. "Because of his basketball IQ, he's going to figure out if a guy is quicker than me, I may have to give him a step. And his long arms [7-1 wingspan] give him a chance to guard guys who may be a step quicker. And as far as guarding a four man? He's a strong kid. He's not gonna let anybody bully him."
The way Green sees it, he's already passed the defense test.
"One of the good things about playing for coach Izzo is if you can't check, you can't play," Green said. "I had to have been able to check somebody to play for him. I've had to do it, and I know I can do it at the next level."
In the run-up to the draft, Green will be the beneficiary of good advice from the most impeccable of sources. When Green wants to pick the brain of someone who's been there, he can call Magic, Cleaves or Smith any time. He's earned the right.
"I'll probably never coach another kid like him," Stephens said. "When coach Izzo talks about great players, Draymond will be up there with Mateen and Magic. Mateen was teasing Dray once about not being able to sit at that table because he didn't win a national championship, but I'd argue with Mateen that he deserves a seat at the table. He'll go down as one of the great players ever at Michigan State."
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