Former UC Irvine Standout Jerry Green Keeps Faith in His Game
About the Writer: Larry Stewart was a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times for 30-plus years after spending nearly nine years at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He is now semi-retired.
By Larry Stewart
The voice on the phone came through loud and clear even though the call was coming from Ludwigsburg, Germany. The voice was that of Jerry Green, whose basketball career at UC Irvine has never been matched in Anteater history and probably never will.
Through Green's agent, Adam Pensack, I obtained his email address. My first email response from Green began, "Sorry for responding so late," and ended with "GOD BLESS!!!"
My first thought was that he must be a nice young man. In doing research for this column and, after the phone interview, I discovered my assumption was correct.
Green, a four-year starter for the Anteaters from 1999 through 2002, politely explained during our phone conversation that he thought for sure he would be drafted by an NBA team, but accepted the fact that he wasn't and ended up doing what he thought he'd never do – going to Europe to play professionally.
He first went to Germany for one year, spent his second year in Poland, the next three years in Germany with his current team, then played one year in Belgium, two years in Italy and now is back with the German team in Ludwigsburg. One of his teammates last season was former UCLA star Toby Bailey, a member of the Bruins' 1995 national championship team.
Green, 32, says he plans to play as long as he can. "But when I'm done, I will move back to the U.S. for good," he said.
Green, who lives in Rancho Cucamonga during the offseason, explained the regular-season in Europe goes from October to April. However, it consists of only 34 games stretched out over a seven-month schedule. Then there are three best-of-five playoff rounds.
In 2007, Green was named MVP of the German Bundesliga League, but this season injuries have been a problem. He was sidelined for more than a month; first with a partial tear in his right ankle and then a pulled hamstring.
"Until this year, in my 10 years of playing professionally, I had only missed two games," he said. "This season I've missed seven or eight."
Through 15 games, he was averaging only 9.5 points and 26.1 minutes per game. As a comparison, during his career at UCI, when he started every game over four years (116 straight), he averaged 17.2 points per game. His career total of 1,993 points is the school record.
But Green, a 6-foot-3 point guard, still has a sliver of hope of eventually playing in the NBA.
"Earlier this season we had this player over here, Terrel Harris, who was from Oklahoma State and had previously played in the NBA Developmental League," Green said. "But our coach didn't think he fit in and he got cut.
"Last month I'm watching a Miami Heat game on NBA.com and who do I see playing alongside LeBron James? It was Terrel Harris."
Harris, helping fill in for an injured Dwyane Wade during a three-game stretch, played 44 minutes in one of those games, scoring nine points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He became just the third Heat rookie to have that many rebounds in a game.
"It just shows anything is possible," Green said. "You just never know."
Green led UCI in scoring and assists four straight seasons and averaged 20.3 points per game as a senior. He led the Anteaters to Big West Conference titles in both 2001 and 2002 and both years he was named conference player of the year. He was also an Associated Press honorable mention All-American those two seasons.
In his junior year, 2000-2001, the Anteaters were 25-5 overall and 15-1 in the Big West. Green hit game-winning baskets on consecutive Saturday nights in road victories over Long Beach State and Boise State, and he scored 41 points in a double-overtime win over Pepperdine.
He had such a good season that he and his family thought that he should make himself available for the NBA draft. However, there were no takers, which obviously was very disappointing. But Green seemed to handle it relatively well.
"I think with some players you would be concerned," Pat Douglass, then his coach at UCI, was quoted as saying at the time. "But he's a pretty mature kid -- disciplined, religious, not one to dwell on negatives very long."
Green's uncle, Carroll, is the pastor at the Great I Am Pentecostal Church in Pomona, his father, Gerald, handles business operations, and his mother, Linda, is the church secretary. The church was founded by Green's late grandfather, Alcide, in the 1960s.
Green said his faith helped him deal with not being drafted. The good thing was he didn't hire an agent so he was free to return to Irvine for his senior season and he again led the Anteaters to a conference championship. A highlight of that season came when he hit a buzzer-beating jump shot in a 67-66 win over Utah State in Logan, snapping the Aggies' 31-game home winning streak.
Although he became only the sixth player to twice be named Big West Player of the Year – and the first since UNLV's Larry Johnson in 1990 and 1991 -- he again wasn't drafted by an NBA team.
But he is still looking on the bright side.
"I've gotten to experience different cultures and see new things," he said of playing in Europe. "And the fans over here are crazy about basketball. They're almost as bad as soccer fans. We need a police escort to get from the bus to the arena."
Green hooked up with Pensack and his brother, Ben, of the Pensack Sports Management Group as his representatives not long after turning pro. At one point, Adam Pensack said, they were close to a deal for Green with the Denver Nuggets.
Of Green, Pensack said: "Throughout Jerry's entire career he has proven to be a role model in every sense of the word. He is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. The fact that his team in Ludwigsburg brought him back for a second stint, after he went on to play in Belgium and Italy, is a testament to what other people think of him."
Green still has fond memories from playing at UCI, although that almost didn't come about. He was heavily recruited out of Pomona High and was ready to sign a letter of intent to play at USC.
"They backed off and offered only a partial scholarship," Green told me. "I wanted to stay local and (assistant) coach (Todd) Lee was recruiting me for UC Irvine and telling me I could help develop the program there.
"During my freshman year there were less than a thousand people attending the games. By my senior year, the games were selling out and it was great being a party to that."