Former Millbrook star Green has embraced time overseas, still eyeing the NBA
WINCHESTER — This wasn’t the scenario that Erick Green imagined when he grew up dreaming of playing professional basketball.
The former Winchester resident and former Millbrook High School star — having elected to sign a one-year contract with Montepaschi Siena in the town of Siena, Italy, in July of 2013 — often found himself wondering during his first few months abroad if this dramatic detour really was the right spot for him to keep his goal of playing in the NBA alive.
Sure, he was getting paid a six-figure contract to play basketball for a living, but he wasn’t really living.
Unlike in Blacksburg where Green starred as the nation’s leading scorer at Virginia Tech, he was no longer surrounded by friends that he could hang out with at a moment’s notice.
His family members couldn’t just hop in the car and make the three-hour trek to see him play.
With a six-hour time difference, Green couldn’t even contact the people closest to him whenever he wanted to, and vice versa.
So when Green woke up one morning during his first few months after arriving in Italy last August, the 22-year-old decided that the nightmare he was living had to end.
“I started packing my bags, because I thought this was not for me,” said Green in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I just couldn’t do it. You’re by yourself out here. I’m the youngest guy on the team, and I’ve got teammates who are 27, 28 and have families and their own lives. [Siena’s] a small town, there’s nothing to do. I definitely had some low times.”
True to his competitive nature though, Green stuck with it. And not surprisingly, he’s leaving his mark on the court for the seven-time defending Italian League champions while enjoying himself off it.
“I’m so happy I decided not to come home,” Green said. “Some of the places I’ve been to I never would have had the opportunity to go to if I wasn’t playing here. It’s unbelievable.
“And Siena is just a basketball town. It’s like we’re the [Los Angeles] Lakers over here.”
Green has averaged 11.5 points in 22.9 minutes in Italian League play for Montepaschi Siena, which currently sits in second place out of 16 teams with a 19-9 record in the Italian League. (Games are 40 minutes in the Italian League.)
The 6-foot-3 Green — who has played in nearly 60 games total for Montepaschi Siena when including exhibitions and separate competitions for Euroleague and Eurocup play — is also hitting 51 percent of his field goals and 85.7 percent of his free throws while playing mostly point guard and some shooting guard.
Most recently, Green scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Montepaschi’s 84-66 victory on Sunday over Enel Brindisi in one of the final games before the playoffs begin.
That game was attended by Tim Connelly, the general manager of the Denver Nuggets, and Nuggets pro personnel scout Jared Jeffries. The Nuggets traded for Green moments after he was selected by the Utah Jazz in the second round of last June’s NBA Draft, and they will maintain Green’s draft rights through Summer League play, which takes place in July.
Green said it’s the second time Denver management has been out to see him play since the season began last October.
“I went to dinner with them after the game, and they liked how much I’ve improved throughout the season,” Green said. “They like the poise and confidence I’m playing with.”
But as Green said, it was a tough adjustment at first.
Green — who was given a car by Montepaschi and lives by himself in a rented two-bedroom apartment in Siena — said there was a definitely a language barrier when he arrived. Though you often hear that there are many Europeans who are fluent in English, Green said Siena is not one of those towns.
And when it comes to what he considers Italian food, Green was definitely speaking a foreign language.
“If you go to Olive Garden [in the United States], you can order chicken alfredo,” Green said. “They just looked at me when I tried to order that. To them, that’s not Italian food.”
Still, Green couldn’t complain about the Italian food he did eat, and he even indulged in some rabbit and wild boar, which went down pretty well.
“I decided when I came here I was going to try new things,” Green said.
Being so far from family was difficult too. His father Erick Sr. came to see Green at the end of November and spent Thanksgiving with him, and his mother Tamara, his sister Madison, and his aunt came to see him for a week in January.
By January, Green was fine with being in Italy emotionally. But it’s no surprise that the month before his dad came and the month before some of his female relatives came were the hardest. Green can use Skype to interact, but it’s not quite the same.
“December was probably the hardest, not being with my family for Christmas,” Green said. “It was tough, because over here I can’t just go home, I can’t just see my friends when I want to.”
Fortunately, Green had basketball, though an adjustment had to be made there too.
As a standout in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference — in his senior year of 2012-13 Green was the ACC Player of the Year and an All-American selection and led NCAA Division I in scoring with 25.0 points game — Green figured the competition he faced would have him ready for anything he was about to face in Italy.
But Italy was more intense than he imagined.
“It’s probably the toughest competition I’ve faced [over a significant period of time],” Green said. “You’re facing guys who are trying to get to the NBA, guys who are trying to get back there, older guys who didn’t quite make it. You’re facing a lot of the best players from Europe. You’re facing guys who are playing for another job, who are hungry.”
Green felt the competitiveness physically just as much as he did emotionally.
“It’s way more physical than back home,” Green said. “When I started it was like, ‘Welcome to Italy, American.’ I was not getting any calls, and I was getting knocked on my butt.”
In Montepaschi head coach Marco Crespi — a former international scout for the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns — Green got someone who pushed him to deal with that physicality, as well as push him to do everything else he needed to improve as a player.
“Because I’m the youngest he’s always hard on me, but he’s helped,” Green said. “Just like in the NBA, there’s a lot of ball screens and pick-and-rolls. He’s helped with things like when a big man hedges, I have to hold my dribble, then attack when he goes back.
“Basically, he’s just helping me with seeing the floor and being smart.”
And while Green is usually asked to be more of a facilitator when he’s on the floor, he can still light it up when called upon. His most explosive effort came in a Feb. 16 win over Victoria Libertas, when Green scored 34 points on 13-of-14 field-goal shooting and 5-of-5 free-throw shooting. Asked to take on more of a scoring role of late, Green has poured in 44 points the last two games.
It’s performances like those that Montepaschi fans can’t get enough of, inside the arena and out.
“I get people stopping me every day,” Green said. “People are looking for autographs and pictures. When we get on the bus, people are waiting for us. I can be out pumping gas, and someone will drive by and yell out ‘Green!’ It’s kind of unreal.
“I think it’s cool though. I know that [basketball] is going to end someday, so I might as well enjoy it.”
Green said he’s made sure to enjoy the sights and sounds of not just Italy but Europe as a whole. He’s visited countries such as Greece, Turkey, Spain, Germany and Poland, and has been able to take in such famous landmarks as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Colosseum in Rome.
Even though Green knows he can’t play basketball forever, he doesn’t want it to end anytime soon. And as much as he now enjoys Italy, what he really wants to do is be back home playing in the good old U.S.A.
NBA Summer League play is only two months away, and perhaps a strong performance will make Denver want to keep Green this offseason.
“I’ve just got to play my game,” Green said. “I was tentative and passive [with the Nuggets in the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League], but now I know what to expect. If I play my game, I think I can be successful.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1