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Danny Green's high school coach on Long Island, Tim Cluess, was asked whether there were whispers his St. Mary's star was being overly ambitious when he took the full ride at North Carolina, and Cluess laughed.
"Whispers?" he said. "They were shouts."
Green couldn't play at the highest reaches of Division I basketball, one prominent coach in the South told Cluess, and that prominent coach had plenty of company.
|Danny Green has made a record 25 of 38 3-pointers in the NBA Finals.|
"There were so many doubts," said Cluess, now the coach at Iona. "I can't tell you how many people directly said to me, 'Why did you let that kid go there? He's never going to play at Carolina.'"
Give the kid a little time, Cluess told them. Give him some time and he'll be fine.
Green's father, Danny Sr., remembered confronting the same questions and doubts.
"And that was from some of my own friends," Danny Sr. said by phone Monday as he waited for a flight from San Antonio to Miami to watch his son try to win it all at LeBron James' expense.
"Yeah, they thought I was crazy to send him there, too. But I thought the only way to find out if Danny was as good as I thought was to send him to the best, North Carolina. I told one of those friends, 'One way or another, we'll find out if you're right or if I'm right.'"
Danny Green Sr. was right.
"You think?" he said.
Tuesday night in Miami, Danny Green Jr. gets his first of two chances to win a title to match the one he seized at North Carolina, and to become one of the more improbable championship-round MVPs in all of sports. A former sparring partner of LeBron's in Cleveland, where he averaged two points per game before he was cut, Green has a chance to help knock out the heavyweight champ in Game 6.
"The brighter the lights get," his father said, "the better Danny usually plays. He's not afraid or intimidated by anything."
Not even by the crisis he encountered after his freshman season in Chapel Hill, when his father was arrested in a major Long Island drug bust. Danny's summer coach, Gary Charles, called him from the Final Four in Indianapolis to see how he and his younger brother, Rashad, were holding up.
"And Danny wasn't crying or saying, 'I can't believe this has happened,'" Charles recalled. "He just calmly said, 'I'm OK. I'll be fine. Just make sure you take care of my brother.'"
Danny Sr. maintained his innocence and swore he had nothing to do with the alleged cocaine trafficking. He would plead guilty to a reduced charge, and spent 22 months in prison before his release in January 2008.
"It never made any sense," said Charles, who counts 23 NBA players produced in 25 years of running the Long Island Panthers. "I've never met a better parent with his kids than Danny Green Sr."
Danny Sr. politely declined to go into detail about the charges and the prison time, and how it affected his son. "It's not something I'm hiding from," he said, "but this is his moment. It was a tough situation for Danny, and for me, but I don't want to take away the shine from him. This is his time."
Of course, it was never supposed to be Danny's time in the NBA, never mind in LeBron's NBA Finals. Way back when, Cluess wasn't all that impressed with the ninth-grader on the North Babylon varsity. Despite the fact his St. Mary's team had just blown out North Babylon, Cluess was reprimanding his players in the locker room and ordering them to stay in their gear and get ready for an unscheduled practice.
Danny Sr. happened to hear this one-way exchange, and he decided he wanted his son to play for a coach like that. "Danny was a decent player," Cluess recalled, "but I didn't think he was anything special for a ninth-grader.
"And the first couple of weeks of his sophomore year, I thought Danny was going to quit. Our practices were the hardest things he'd ever been through, and it looked like he wanted no part of it. He wasn't finishing sprints, and when a player does that, the whole team runs extra."
Green's St. Mary's teammates quickly grew tired of paying the price for the newcomer's failures. One day, a winded Danny was pulling up short again, and about to take a knee, when a teammate decided he had had enough. "I grabbed him by the back and threw him over the finish line," said Mamadou Diakhate, who would play for Eastern Kentucky and Fairfield.
Times and people change. Over his junior and senior seasons at St. Mary's, Green would go undefeated in the sprints.
Cluess played him in the post, then at the point, before finally placing him at his natural wing position as a senior. He wanted Green to see the game from all angles, inside and out. The kid wasn't particularly athletic, but he worked harder and improved more over the summer than any player Cluess had ever coached.
Green hoped to sign with NC State, but Charles said Herb Sendek backed away from his initial interest. Roy Williams saw Green play in a Vegas tournament, liked how he clapped for his teammates after being benched, and that was that.
Green considered transferring after his sophomore season at Carolina (just as the skeptics predicted), decided against it and developed into an accomplished system player for the ultimate system team. He did all the little things -- and some really big things -- as a starter for that national championship team in 2009.
"We were hoping San Antonio would take Danny in the draft," Danny Sr. said, "because we knew he was a system guy the Spurs would appreciate."
Cleveland took Green in the second round, with the No. 46 pick. Danny Jr. did some pregame dancing with LeBron to the crowd's delight, spent some time in the D-League and appeared in 20 games with the Cavaliers before he was fired.
The Spurs signed him, released him twice (including once after six days), then reversed field and rescued him out of the D-League. Gregg Popovich and his GM, R.C. Buford, don't make many mistakes; they sure as hell weren't going to make the same mistake three times.
Green earned his chance to start, then earned his chance to shine. His introduction to America in these NBA Finals has been defined by the 25 3-pointers (out of only 38 attempts, amazingly enough) he made to break Ray Allen's record, and by the 24 points he scored in Game 5 to land the Heat on the doorstep of a place they don't want to go.
Only those with a trained basketball eye have focused on Green's disruption of the Miami transition game, and on his rejections of LeBron's shots. Cluess noticed that unique aspect of Green's game in high school. "His timing on blocked shots, without fouling, was always special," Cluess said, "even though he's not a great athlete."
No, you don't have to be a great athlete to beat one the likes of LeBron James. But just as he was once overshadowed by bigger-name guards in New York City (Sebastian Telfair) and beyond, Green is apparently being overshadowed by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in Miami's scouting reports.
The Heat refuse to cover Green, prompting Parker to say he "can't believe he is still open at this point in the series." Hey, the Spurs will take whatever Miami wants to give them.
So will Green. Cluess texted his guy after Game 5, told him he was proud and advised him to keep letting it rip. Danny's return text was simple and to the point.
"One more to go," it said.
One more night for a Long Island long shot to shoot out the lights.