Marching Through the Madness...And Memories...of March
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty
Before Danny Green dropped 21 on the Thunder last week, before he swooped in for five steals, drained five three-balls and grabbed four rebounds, he got down to the serious fun of the month: filling out his NCAA Men's Tournament bracket.
Green considers himself as mad about March as any teammate on the Spurs roster -- and not just because he's the only one with a national championship ring. Green fancies himself a bracketologist, a hoopster with a scientific-like feel for a 64-game tournament.
"We all filled out brackets last year," Green was saying before the Oklahoma City game last week. "I was one of the top guys on the team, ahead of everybody else."
That's the way he remembers it. And this is how Green sees this year's tournament ending: North Carolina, his alma mater, cutting down nets and celebrating, just like the Tar Heels did in 2009.
"If they make it to the Final Four," he says, "I don't know why they can't win it all."
He added a qualifier to his prediction. Health. If John Henson returns from a wrist injury, Green said, the Tar Heels could go all the way. Henson returned on Sunday and led North Carolina to a second-round victory over Creighton with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. But the Tar Heels lost point guard Kendall Marshall to a broken wrist.
The uncertainty of Marshall's return turns Green's bracket into a cloud of doubt. His NCAA Tournament memories, though, remain as clear as the turquoise waters of Aruba. He remembers a surprising run of blowouts (43 points over Radford, 21 over Gonzaga), beating Blake Griffin and Oklahoma, 72-60, and straining his oblique muscle against Villanova in the semifinals.
Green was throwing a jump pass across his body when he felt the abdominal muscle pull. "It hurt to laugh, use the bathroom, roll over, sit down, stand up," he says. "It hurt so bad I didn't think I was going to play in the national championship game."
He received ice treatments and a cortisone shot. Would he play? His heart pulled one way, the pain pulled another. For the previous 10 years, Green bled Carolina blue. …
The way Green remembers it, he began rooting for the Tar Heels around the age of 12. Danny Green Sr. says junior may have loved Carolina before that. "He was always a Michael Jordan fan," the father says. "Michael was always on TV and that's who he liked the most."
Jordan played his last game for North Carolina in 1984. Danny Green Jr. was born in 1987. The kid grew up watching Jordan soar to the rim for the Chicago Bulls. Dad placed a portable hoop in the driveway and watched his son go to work. "He started dunking on it," dad recalls.
Senior put a stronger hoop in the backyard, created a halfcourt and painted lines. Junior shot until darkness fell, and kept on shooting under the watchful eye of dad who doubled as coach. Junior dreamed aloud of playing at North Carolina. Junior and senior watched the NCAA Tournament on television. "I think it's the most exciting time of the year in basketball," the father says.
Young Danny grew, his game blossomed, people began talking. The kid could be special. Dad didn't see the star potential until young Danny created a buzz at the prestigious ABCD camp in 2004. Junior shared co-MVP camp honors with Monta Ellis, and word spread: Tar Heels Coach Roy Williams wanted the kid.
"That's when I knew it was possible for him to become a McDonald's All-American and play at North Carolina," the father says.
Williams visited young Danny's Long Island high school. The coach took the kid to dinner at an Italian restaurant, then went to the family's house. None of it was necessary. "I was already sold," junior says.
Five years later, Danny took a painkiller and jogged onto the court for his final game as a Tar Heel, his father in the stands. The dream that almost never comes true for little boys shooting in the driveway materialized for Danny Green Jr. North Carolina defeated Michigan State. Through the din, the son recognized a voice. He looked up and spotted his father calling his name.
"I had goosebumps," dad says.
All the years of training melted into one shining moment. …
The memories remain vivid. Father and son may be creating more. When Danny Green filled out his own bracket the other day, he got to thinking like junior and penciled in you-know-who to go all the way.