Smart Spartan: Draymond Green pulls through at MSU
Tom Izzo doesn't compare many players to Magic Johnson.
Draymond Green is one of them.
Michigan State's coach said the sophomore's intelligence on the court puts him in elite company, which includes the former Spartan and all-time great.
``He ranks right up there in the top, not (just) in the history of this school,'' Izzo said. ``We've got a guy that's supposed to be at the game this week that was 6-9, a little better than him at recognizing things, but he's going to be right up there in the top five that I've known of.''
Johnson is expected to be a famous face in the crowd when fifth-seeded Michigan State plays ninth-seeded Northern Iowa on Friday in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
It's a safe bet Johnson's iconic smile will be on display when the do-it-all Green is on the court.
Green says his savvy skills stem from learning how to play the right way growing up in Saginaw.
``Some of it is God-given and a lot of it comes from watching basketball and starting off with my uncle in elementary school and my dad,'' he said. ``They really taught us the game. They never just rolled out a ball and let us play. Then, when I played for coach (Lou) Dawkins, we got up and down the floor, but he taught us how to think the game.
``And I've always just picked coaches' brains and learned from older guys.''
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who is six years older than Green, was one of those guys at the Civitan Recreation Center.
``He always wanted to play with the older kids and we rarely let him,'' Woodley recalled. ``When he did get on the court, he had so much passion that he would get right up every time he got knocked down.''
Woodley has known Green since elementary school, where Green's grandmother was the librarian. He attended one of Green's games at Michigan State this season and rooted for him in person last year during the Final Four in Detroit. He plans to go to Indianapolis next week if Green helps the Spartans reach this year's Final Four by beating Northern Iowa and then either Ohio State or Tennessee.
Would the former Michigan star get decked out in green to support Green?
``That's my guy, but I'm not going that far,'' Woodley said Wednesday.
Michigan State wouldn't have come this far without Green, whose clutch play helped beat Maryland on Sunday.
Green made a go-ahead jumper with 20 seconds left. Then, after the Terrapins reclaimed the lead, he got the inbounds pass, dribbled up the court and passed the ball to Korie Lucious, who made a buzzer-beating shot in what has perhaps been the No. 1 highlight of this NCAA tournament.
Michigan State will count on the Green's passing and ballhandling now more than ever because star guard Kalin Lucas had a season-ending injury against Maryland.
The rotund 6-foot-6, 235-pound Green may not look like a guard, but his mind makes up for it.
``You're not always going to be able to outrun or outjump someone,'' he said. ``You should always be able to outthink someone.''
Green's combination of skills and smarts earned him this season's Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year award.
He averages nearly 10 points a game and leads the Spartans in rebounding and steals, ranks second on the team in blocks, and is third in assists and field-goal percentage.
Dawkins, Green's coach at Saginaw High School, recalls watching a 10-year-old making incredible passes and playing with a basketball IQ beyond his years.
``I couldn't wait for him to get to high school,'' Dawkins said.
Green didn't disappoint when he did, leading Saginaw to Class A titles both as a junior and senior.
``He's got so many intangibles going for him,'' Dawkins said. ``It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet because you can pick and choose what you want him to do on the court.''
Michigan State is going to want him to help Lucious as he steps into his new, pressure-packed job of trying to fill in for Lucas.
``His ability to see the floor is amazing,'' Lucious said. ``It's going to help me a lot. If I'm getting dogged up the court or I'm winded, I can give him the ball and that will take a lot of weight off me.''
As much as Izzo worries about playing at least one big game without Lucas, he's comforted by knowing Green will be his on-the-floor leader.
``He's so smart, he can pick up things in one film session,'' Izzo said. ``He can pick up things in one walkthrough and other guys can't.''