BASKETBALL: Greene up for fun once win's in bag

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor


NBL

Basketball

IF LOOKS is the yardstick for success then Brian Greene's already a winner on the basketball court.

Sporting a charcoal designer jacket with an oversized tick across the chest and a matching bandanna to neatly tuck in his dreadlocks, the HBS Bank Hawks' latest American import whips off the earphones to disengage himself from his iPad for an interview.

The 1.98m "slasher" doesn't possess the imposing frame of last year's import, Galen Young, nor, as it pans out, does he have the witticism of squad member Kareem Johnson.

That is not to say a softly spoken Greene isn't about to man up for new Hawks coach Tab Baldwin when the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) tips off on Friday, April 19, in their first match against the Manawatu Jets in Palmerston North.

If that won't be a litmus test then the Hawks' first home game at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, on Sunday, April 21, against Southland certainly will when Paul Henare brings the Sharks to his hometown for a dust-up against his former Tall Blacks and Auckland coach.

More in the mould of perhaps playmaker Josh Pace, the 29-year-old is at pains to impress he doesn't fit the bill of your stereotypical US import on some ego trip.

"I can score but I'm more a team player," says the Florida-born player, revealing former Tall Blacks coach Baldwin (Kepez Belediyespor) spotted him as an opposition Antalya player in the Turkish championship in 2009.

That is why the more laidback leagues of Europe have suited Greene more in his career.

A swingman, who can play No2-4, has plied his trade in Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia and Switzerland. He has spurned suitors' invitations to attend trials for NBA honours.

"It's more about who you know in NBA. I'm blessed to go overseas so it's okay to go overseas and I'm fine with that."

Commitment aside, the European philosophy of putting the collective ahead appeals to him rather than the individualism of the NBA arena that invariably pits the LeBron James of the world against the Kobe Bryants.

"It's more team ball - that's more my style of playing. Scoring is never a problem but I'm a rebounder, defender and leader all rolled up in one."

Born in Jacksonville, like Baldwin, Greene knew he had struck a chord with his new coach.

His admiration of Baldwin is reinforced in the coach's ability to make players buy into "the system".

"People make it to professional level and sometimes think they know it all," he says, adding Baldwin helps players not only on the court but off it.

"It wasn't about money for me but going somewhere comfortable and winning championships."

Greene has been to a handful of scrimmages with Baldwin and captain Paora Winitana and his men but found them "pretty embracing".

It's not about the import exerting his ability on his teammates but more about everyone getting a feel for each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"Everyone can put a ball into the rim."

With Baldwin pushing everyone at training, it pleases Greene that not a player complained.

"I'm not about giving up. As I said, I leave it all on the court. I hate losing, man."

The Hawks have won only one NBL title, under Shawn Dennis, now assistant coach of Perth Wildcats, and have endured several heart-breaking seasons of bowing out in the playoffs.

For two seasons they lost in Wellington under rookie coach and the Bay's favourite son, Paul Henare, who has since joined the Southland Sharks.

To the chorus of "hanging their hats on defence", the Hawks have come up shy in the physicality stakes, with several US imports becoming sacrificial lambs in a ritualistic blood-letting that foreign players are aware of and accept in signing contracts.

With a change of franchise ownership, general manager Paul Trass executed a coup in luring Baldwin, who recently completed a stint in China.

Greene said he isn't shy to express his opinion on the court, leader or not.

"I like having fun but I want to win, whatever it takes."

Greene was only 14 when his father, Larry Greene, a port worker, died. His mother, Mary Allen, who recently moved to Atlanta, endured immense hardship in raising four children.

The other three siblings strayed but have found some traction in their lives but Greene is the only one to have attended college, obtaining a degree in criminal justice.

"I have a bitter taste of police so I prefer to work with the kids.

"They [kids] were confused about life because it wasn't their fault," says the graduate of Florida Agriculture Medical University.

While it was difficult to attend churches in Europe, Greene is a believer. "I do say my prayers and I believe in God."

His uncle, Tony "Alfonzo" Greene, kept him on the straight and narrow when his father died.

The late Bernard Wilkes, who Baldwin knows, was Greene's "great mentor".

"He taught me knowing wrong from right.

"He used to say, 'What you put forth is what you'll get out of it'.

"You don't need a dictionary or a book to understand that."

Still feeling he has at least five more years left in him as a player, Greene hopes to marry and settle down with his girlfriend, Shaniq Blount, 28, who works for an accountancy firm in Jacksonville.

From the moment he got off the plane in the Bay, he has found people warm and welcoming.

Boarding with Christina Bush in Napier, Greene sensed an "attitude" in other countries.

In fact, he feels he's learned more about life travelling as a professional basketballer than reading and writing in classrooms.

"When I go back home people are amazed and more aware of me because they realise they don't have that experience.

"On my grumpy days I tell myself I'm so lucky because not too many other people have the opportunity I have."

Greene's No1 sport growing up was baseball but tendinitis of the elbow robbed him of a future.

"I was just a toothpick in basketball so I ran into a lot of brick walls," he says with a grin.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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