January 24, 2014

Green Keeps the Faith at UCSB

His story comes straight from the Book of Job.

Green's patience has been tested for three straight years, each one halted by a broken foot: He fractured the right one before his first season and his left at the start of the next two. In that time, he's played in just two exhibition games and two real ones.

His heart has felt just as broken.

"It's like I've had this lock on me, keeping me from playing the game that I love," the 6-foot-5 junior said.

And yet, Green's faith and rehabilitation have never wavered. He has circled Jan. 30 on the Gauchos' schedule — the UC Irvine game — as the night he expects his comeback to begin.

Again.

"It started this week," he said of his return to light workouts. "I would say I've been going 50 percent. I've been in our stretching drills and have been able to get in some skill development: Some shooting, a little ball-handling — just some of the things that get us warmed up before our competitive drills.

"And I feel good, like I haven't missed a beat. I'm just ready to get out there in two weeks, at the end of this month."

UCSB coach Bob Williams had counted on Green, an elite recruit from the Westwind Prep Academy of Phoenix, Ariz., to be one of his top scorers last year. All he wants now is to just see him running again with his teammates.

"He's a go-to type guy, but when you've been out, and the team has moved forward for three months, it's tough to assimilate back into the team as a go-to type guy," he said. "He's going to have to be a ball-mover and more of a role player, and pick his spots until he gets his feel.

"If we had a completely healthy John Green by March, I'd be very happy."

All he wants to do is help.

"We know that we have a lot of talent on the team this year and so there's really no room for big egos or selfishness," he said. "We all know how to win a game and what jobs we need to take on."

And for three months, Green's job has been to get his body healthy again.

He needed 11 months of rehabilitation the last time to prepare for this year's opener against Hawaii-Pacific. He shook off his 3-for-10 shooting performance that as though it were rust and considered himself ready for a big night at UNLV on Nov. 8.

And then Williams took him aside at the team's hotel shortly before the bus ride to the Thomas & Mack Arena: Green's doctor had called to say he noticed the start of a small, new fracture in his left foot on an x-ray.

"The doctor said, 'All right, he's had fractures and breaks there before, so let's be cautious about it,'" Green recalled his coach saying.

Williams announced during the bus ride to the arena that Green, one of the team's emotional leaders and most popular players, was being shut down for the third straight season. The lively chatter went dead silent for several seconds - until Green let loose.

"Play your hearts out! Don't give up! We're a great team! Beat these guys!" he shouted, over and over. "Play tonight like it's the last game you're ever going to play!"

The heavily favored Rebels never saw it coming: The Gauchos pummeled them, 86-65.

"When coach told them on the bus, I could see it on their faces, that they were down," Green said when he recalled his outburst on Friday. "I came here for one reason and that was to win, and I just couldn't let the bus go that silent, knowing that they had such a big game ahead."

His own despair, however, sank in the following day on the return to Santa Barbara.

"My own really down moment," Green called it.

He said he called upon two big influences in his life to pull him out of it: God ... and Sheila Green.

"I called my mom, and she really gave me the strength to keep my head up," he said. "My mom and my sister, they're both strong women. My little sister is schizophrenic, and my mom told me, 'She goes through a lot every day, but she still has a smile on her face.'

"It made me realize that there are those in worse situations than me. People with cancer — people with other diseases — and here I am, still walking on my own two feet, still breathing — still healthy and alive."

His comeback began that day.

Williams has been impressed at the efforts being made to get his top prospect back on the court.

"They have some ideas on different types of orthotics and what he can do with them," he said. "The great thing is that it's all science-based. They're finding pressure points on the feet and testing John when he runs, when he jumps, when he moves.

"They have sensors in there, and they're trying to remove some of the pressure from that part of the feet."

Williams has done his part by including Green in everything, even the road trips. He joined them again on Friday when they left for tonight's game against Cal State Northridge. His father, Reggie, has made several trips, too, in support of his son.

"It's all really helped me bond with my teammates even more and still be part of the chemistry of this team," Green said. "Sometimes, during the shoot-around before a game, coach Williams will ask me to say a couple of things to the team.

"In the lockerroom during halftime, I might have a few things to say. I'm still involved as a leader and some of these guys take my vocal leadership and put it all out there on the floor."

Often, Williams' support will come in a simple facial gesture.

"He'll give me a little wink," Green said. "Just a little, positive wink."

It tells him to stay the course and all will be good.

Green celebrated Thursday's win over rival Long Beach State with his teammates. When he got home, he found that his sister, Arnelle, had posted a photo on her Facebook page.

"It was of the team in a huddle," he said. "She'd watched the game on ESPNU."

Arnelle included the words, "Congratulations to the team. My brother will be back soon and I can't wait to see him play."

It was the perfect way to end another day of keeping the faith.

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