Bill Hass on the ACC: UNC's Danny Green Overcomes Obstacles on the Way to Success
April 2, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Perhaps Danny Green's college basketball career hasn't unfolded exactly as he envisioned - in reality, how many do? - but he can still end it with the ultimate achievement.
One way or another, Green's four-year ride at North Carolina will be over in the next few days. Saturday night, he will try to help push the Tar Heels past Villanova in the NCAA semifinals. If successful, Green and his teammates will play for the national championship Monday night against either Connecticut or Michigan State.
North Carolina reached the same level last season, only to fall to Kansas 84-66 in the semifinals. Green believes this time will be different.
"I think we're a smarter team, a more experienced team, and we know what it's like to be there," he said. "Last year was my first experience in the Final Four and I think we were kind of overwhelmed with it. Maybe we got comfortable, maybe satisfied being there, happy being there, and weren't focused on the game as much as we should have been.
"I think this year we know what it's about, we know what our focus is on and we've got to stick to it. This is a new game, a new day, a new year. We learn from our mistakes, we learn from our past games and hopefully come out and do better."
Leading up to this game, Green has faced questions about the venue. In the ACC Tournament, played in the Georgia Dome, he had two of the worst games of his career, shooting 3-for-25.
Even when the Tar Heels routed Michigan State 98-63 in December at Ford Field, site of this Final Four, Green shot just 2-for-7. He did have five rebounds, five assists, three blocks and one steal.
"It is different, playing in a dome like that," he said. "It's elevated; the background is a little different. You've just got to adjust to it."
As for the ACC Tournament, North Carolina played without point guard Ty Lawson, although Green refused to use that as an excuse.
"It was a bad weekend, some bad shooting days," he said. "I'm not trying to worry about what happened in the past, I'm just focusing on the future and just playing my game. If my shot is not falling, I'm going to try to do other things to help my team out.
"(Ty) being able to penetrate and kick and find me when I'm open helps a lot. Him (not being there) had nothing to do with how bad I was shooting, Not all of them were contested, not all of them were tough, bad shots. Some were open shots that I just missed that I normally make. Some were layups, some were tips, some were dunks."
Green said none of his teammates said anything to him about his performance in Atlanta. No one tried to change his mechanics. He talked with head coach Roy Williams, who wanted to make sure there was nothing distracting him, and there wasn't.
"It's no big secret, (you) just get in the gym and keep shooting," he said of snapping out of it. "That's what shooters do, just keep shooting and not lose confidence. Once you do that, that's when you stop playing your game. The coaches and team knew that at some point I would come back around and fortunately I did."
In North Carolina's four NCAA wins, Green has hit 20 of 44 shots (45.4 percent), seven of 17 3-pointers (41.2 percent) and added 22 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 steals and five blocks, with only three turnovers. He scored 14 first-half points against Oklahoma to propel the Tar Heels to a lead they never relinquished in the South Regional final.
"When Danny is playing his game - blocking shots, grabbing rebounds, hustling, doing all the little things - we're a really hard team to beat," said teammate Deon Thompson.
The 6-foot-6 Green is an important cog in the Tar Heels' machine. When all the parts are functioning well - starters Green, Lawson, Thompson, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington plus Ed Davis and Bobby Frasor off the bench - it's a team that's a handful for anyone.
"I think what he did (against Oklahoma) is a little bit of what I saw when I recruited him (out of St. Mary's High School on Long Island)," Williams said. "I saw a youngster who could shoot, who could put the ball on the floor, who had an ability to get his hands on a lot of balls on the offensive backboard. I did not see the shot-blocking ability that I've seen develop over the last four years.
"We needed a small forward who could do a lot of things, including shoot, and we felt like Danny was exactly what we were looking for. I think over the four years, each and every year he has developed some things on both ends of the court that's really helped us. Every year he's played big for us in some really big-time games. He's handled a lot of adversity extremely well and he's been a very dependable youngster who's able to line up and play every night."
Like many high school stars who join star-studded college teams, Green didn't play as much as he would have liked early on. He contributed off the bench by averaging 7.5 points and 3.7 rebounds as a freshman and 5.2 points and 2.8 rebounds as a sophomore. He had his sights set on being a starter as a junior, but Williams chose to use him as the sixth man and Green averaged 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds.
After just one start in his first 107 college games, Green made the starting lineup this season in each of North Carolina's 36 games. He has responded with career-best averages of 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.
"He has faced the adversity on the court of wanting to start and me putting him the sixth man's role," Williams said. "It hasn't been the smoothest ride in the world; he's just done well with it."
One of the elements of the Tar Heels' game that has gotten them this far is an improved defense. Williams said he has been pushing this team to concentrate on and invest in the defensive end of the floor. The results haven't always been obvious, but the 72-60 win over Oklahoma was perhaps UNC's finest defensive effort this season.
"We did a really good job of picking it up and rotating and helping each other out," Green said. "Guys were in the right places, taking charges and getting steals, and when we can do that, we're able to push the ball and get easy baskets at the other end. We did our assignments right, we doubled when needed to, we had good rotations, they got shots with a hand in their face, contested."
Williams said Green has stopped reaching in and gambling so much, trying to steal everything. For Green, an All-ACC defensive team choice, it's a matter of being better at picking his spots.
"I try to steal it as much as I possibly can," he said. "I try to distract the big men when they get the ball, make them think about it, make them change something, make them do something they're not comfortable doing, whether it's slapping at the ball or doubling them or putting a hand in their face.
"When I get down there I try to get a hand on the ball as much as possible without fouling. I guess I'm focused more on reaching when I'm able to get the ball instead of just reaching every time, which is causing me to not get in as much foul trouble."
When Green's career is complete, he will own UNC career records for the most games played (currently 143) and most games won (currently 121), both of which he wants to extend by two. He has compiled more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists, 100 blocks and 100 steals.
Maybe things haven't gone quite the way he planned, but his accomplishments will speak for themselves, especially if the Tar Heels win the national championship.
One person who expects Green to be unfazed by the situation is Villanova coach Jay Wright, who coached at Hofstra on Long Island and used to watch Green play in high school.
"He's done an incredible job at Carolina, just gotten better and better," Wright said. "I think he's a complete player. He can get his own shot, he can block shots, he rebounds, he scores around the basket, he shoots 3s, and he's a veteran.
"As coaches in college we understand that probably one of the toughest things for kids to deal with is (coming in) and they're not a star right away, they have to come off the bench. He's dealt with that and I think that's made him mentally tough. I don't think there's anything that's going to get to him, obviously not the game against Oklahoma, not the pressure of going to a Final Four. He's been through it all. He's a big-time player."
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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