Despite all of Donte Green’s accomplishments on the basketball court, what he did off the court on Memorial Day of 2009 dwarves everything else.
Green and some friends were on a holiday excursion at American River (which runs through the Sacramento metropolitan area) when a woman who was untying the ladder of her boat fell off when somebody who was in the boat started the engine – without her knowing it.
It took only a matter of seconds before Green realized she couldn’t swim, so he jumped into the water and saved her from drowning.
Green’s instantaneous response ran counter to the tendency of many people not to get involved in a dire situation that doesn’t involve them. But it didn’t surprise Syracuse University assistant coach Rob Murphy, who’s in his sixth season with the Orange.
“Donte didn’t even think one second,” said Murphy. “That’s who he is to the core. He’s a helping person. He’s a helper and a giver. When he called me that night he was excited that he was able to help somebody.”
By helping that woman who was in distress, Green gave her the opportunity to live the rest of her life. But that’s only one side of his personality, according to Murphy.
“If you don’t know him, he’s a fun-loving individual,” said Murphy. “But he’s almost too nice of a person and sometimes that hurts him on the court. I’ve told him ‘You’ve got to be mean and tenacious.’”
In retrospect, Green’s persona didn’t deter the Memphis Grizzlies who made him the 28th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft – and who later traded him to the Houston Rockets, who traded him to the Sacramento Kings.
Early in his second season, he started to display the talent that made him a first-round pick by scoring 20-plus points in several games.
The fact Green developed into a first-round pick underscored the fact that while he always had a good, pull-up jump shot and good range, he improved his ability to use his off hand, his ball handling skills and his shot selection.
“Those were things he had to work on,” admitted Murphy, who “tutored” Green. “We lost Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf 10 games into the season. Donte was the guy who took a lot of shots but, as a freshman, it was like he was learning on the job. He was filling in and, at first, looked great. But as the season went on, while he did become our leading scorer, he began to take bad shots.
“To me, he stood too much on the perimeter. As the season went on, he wore down and began to settle for jumpers too much. He was 6-10 and talented but he didn’t have a mid-range post game.”
That changed once Green began to work with Murphy.
“After I began to work with him, later in the year he began to post up and become more effective down low,” related Murphy. “In high school he didn’t post up a lot. His high school team had a guard who took most of the shots and he was the second-leading scorer.
“I wanted him to learn how important it was to be versatile in terms of posting up. As the BIG EAST season went on, he began to post up more. That goes to show he’s a very coachable kid.”
The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Wes Johnson made history of sorts when he became only the fourth Syracuse player and the first transfer student from a Division I school to be voted BIG EAST Player of the Year – which he was named last March.
Johnson’s accolade was notable because, not only did he overcome the effect of a hand injury, but he also sat out the 2008-09 season after transferring from Iowa State.
Despite having to learn a new system and not being able to play except in practice (although going against the likes of Paul Harris, Jonny Flynn and Devendorf wasn’t like knocking heads with a CYO team), Johnson had to overcome something else.
“I worked with him daily and he didn’t have confidence when he came here,” said Murphy. “He was talented and could shoot the ball. He knew he was a pretty good player but he couldn’t believe how good he was.
“When I recruited him, I told him he could play in the NBA once he learned our system.”
Murphy opined how Johnson had his good days and bad days during the year he was sitting out, yet it still didn’t sink in that he was one of the best wing players in the country.
“Nike has these All-American camps and I asked him to go to the top one and play against some of the best players in the country,” said Murphy. “But I called Nike and they were like ‘We don’t know who he is.” Fortunately, we talked them into letting Wes get into Vince Carter’s camp.
“When he came back, he had a new walk. It was like ‘I know I’m good and can to go to the NBA.’ His whole mentality and mindset changed.”
So did Johnson’s shooting, which may have been the final piece of the puzzle and which persuaded the Minnesota Timberwolves to make him their first-round pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
“It was more repetition and getting him in the gym and taking a lot of shots morning, noon and night,” said Murphy. “I worked with him on when to put the ball on the floor and he became really good at understanding what he had to do.”
When it comes to understanding “what to do” on a court, Murphy is a classic example.
Under the guidance of former Detroit Mumford coach Venius Jordan, Murphy learned a valuable lesson.
“Coach Jordan’s advice to me was whatever you do, make sure you major in education so you can come back and be a teacher and a coach in the Detroit public school system,” said Murphy. “In my junior year, I told him I wanted to be a coach.”
Murphy graduated from Central State University in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in education.
Then, after serving as an assistant coach at Detroit Central, he accepted the position as head coach at Crockett Technical High School – which had not won a game in the previous two seasons.
“Nobody wanted that job,” said Murphy. “The school didn’t have a gym. And when I was at Central, we beat them by 60 or 70 points. But I was 24 at the time and wanted an opportunity. I knew if I could get a few players I could turn the program around.”
In his first season, Crockett went 5-13.
“We lost a couple of games by 15 to 20 points and our principal was happy because he felt I was doing a good job,” said Murphy. “But I was frustrated.”
Then, with eventual Mavericks’ first-round pick Maurice Ager leading the way, Crockett went on to win three consecutive Class B District titles and the 2001 Class B state championship.
“At Crockett, it was a matter of learning, just like I’ve learned a lot from coach (Jim) Boeheim,” said Murphy. “I’ve learned a million things from coach Boeheim. He’s a great person in all aspects of life, on and off the court.
“With him, it’s keep moving on win, lose or draw because there’s more to life than basketball.”
Story by Mike Scandura, special contributor to The Juice Online. This story appeared in the 2010-11 Syracuse Basketball Yearbook. For a complete look at this year’s team, pick up a copy at the Carrier Dome for only $8.
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