2011 Hornets Playoff Player Profiles: Willie Green

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

There was an unexpected ownership transfer to the NBA in November. There was a potential distraction related to an attendance-benchmark deadline in January. There was an exceptionally rare Emeka Okafor injury absence, which resulted in the Hornets losing seven of nine games in February. In March, David West’s season-ending torn ACL cost New Orleans its leading scorer.

“It seemed like we were dealing with a major issue every three weeks this season,” first-year New Orleans coach Monty Williams described. “We’ve had some tough things happen. But what can you do? You can’t quit.”

Amid the numerous adverse circumstances that were beyond the control of Hornets coaches and players over a five-month period, however, nothing was as difficult to accept as what happened in December. Hours after the Hornets’ Dec. 19 overtime road loss to Willie Green’s hometown team, the Detroit Pistons, the shooting guard’s 30-year-old sister Tamara and 27-year-old cousin Gary died tragically in an early-morning automobile accident.

As his Hornets teammates played a Dec. 20 game in Indianapolis against the Pacers, Green and his family returned to their home in Michigan. The 29-year-old spent the week of Christmas helping prepare for and attending his sister’s and cousin’s funeral. He returned to the Hornets’ lineup on New Year’s Eve for a fourth-quarter comeback victory at Boston.

As it turned out, the five games Green missed following the tragedy – from Dec. 20-29 – were the only games he did not play in during the 2010-11 season.

“It was definitely tough,” Green said of the unimaginable loss of two close family members. “It’s going to continue to be tough, but I will say this: I got a lot of love and support from this organization, guys in this locker room, fans, people that I didn’t even know. That was a great feeling. Whenever you’re going through tough times, it feels good to have that kind of love and support. My family and I greatly appreciate that.”

In his debut season with the Hornets, the durable eight-year NBA veteran emerged as the New Orleans bench’s most consistent contributor and frequently drew difficult defensive assignments against high-scoring wing players.

“One game he guarded LeBron,” Williams said. “The game before that he guarded Kevin Martin. (Another) game he had Jason Terry. He guards the toughest guys every night. And he’s tough as nails. You’re not going to push him around. He’s who we are. If we had to define who we are (as a team), he’s right up there with Chris (Paul) and David (West).”

Prior to coming to New Orleans this season, Detroit Mercy product had spent his entire NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers. The 6-foot-3, 201-pounder played in the postseason three different times, though Philadelphia never advanced past the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The 76ers’ most successful regular season finish over the seven-year span was 43-39, meaning the 2010-11 Hornets are the best team record-wise Green has played for in the NBA.

With nearly 500 career regular season games under his belt, Green is also the third-oldest player on the New Orleans roster. A spiritual man whose pregame ritual always includes setting aside time for prayer, he exudes a maturity that goes well beyond his chronological age of 29, making him one of the Hornets’ primary locker-room leaders. That trait is something that amazed Williams when Green rejoined the Hornets on the final day of 2010.

“His teammates were happy to have him back, because he is such a calming influence,” Williams remembered of Green’s return to the team in Boston. “Guys love Willie. They know they can count on him. To see how strong he’s been through a tough time… the night we won the Boston game, we found out that his sister would have been 31 that day. That was pretty touching. At the same time, we’re celebrating a big win and you remember what he’s going through. You never would’ve known it. I was like, ‘That’s amazing. That guy is tough.’

“Willie is the kind of guy you wish could play for a championship team, and someday we hope he does here.”

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