Former Pioneer Courtni Green looking forward to start of NCAA tourney
WINCHESTER — With each scoring more than 1,000 career points and earning all-conference honors at least once, former Millbrook stars Erick Green (Virginia Tech) and Jordan Sugars (Navy) and former Clarke County star Chandler Rhoads (New Hampshire) each had college careers that just about any athlete would take in a heartbeat.
One thing they never got to do was play in an NCAA Division I basketball tournament though.
And so while Erick Green’s younger sister Courtni Green is used to experiencing big moments on the basketball court, she’s not looking at this as just another weekend by any means.
Green is the first area basketball player on an NCAA Division I tournament team since Clarke County’s Sean Munson went with Wagner in 2003, when the 15th-seeded Seahawks lost to No. 2 Pittsburgh in the first round.
“I know how fortunate I am to get the opportunity to do this,” said Green, now a freshman guard at the University of Delaware, in a phone interview. “It’s incredible. I’m enjoying it, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
“It’s something they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives,” said Delaware head coach Tina Martin.
The Blue Hens (30-3) — seeded No. 6 in the Bridgeport Regional — take on No. 11 West Virginia at 12:15 p.m. Sunday at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, Del., in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship. On Sunday, Delaware clinched an automatic berth into the tournament after winning the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament following an unbeaten conference season for the second straight year.
As big of a deal as it is to play for an NCAA Tournament team, Green does so in an entirely different role than what Millbrook fans are accustomed to.
As a Pioneer, Green led Millbrook to three consecutive undefeated Group AA title seasons and 80 consecutive wins — both Virginia High School League records for girls’ basketball — while winning three Group AA state player of the year awards and scoring 2,626 points, third-best in state history.
This year, Green has scored just 61 points. That used to be normal point total over two games at Millbrook, but that has been spread over 25 games (10th-most on the team) this season. Green is averaging 8.0 minutes (ninth on the team), 2.4 points and 1.1 rebounds.
Green said it’s definitely been an adjustment, but it’s not unexpected. Delaware returned all five starters from last year’s team that went 31-2 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and six of the Hens’ top seven players are seniors, including All-American Elena Delle Donne, the 6-foot-5 wing who averages 25.3 points per game.
Green said it helped being able to talk to her family about how to handle a limited role, particularly Erick. Erick Green might be the nation’s leading scorer as a senior this year, but when he was a freshman, he averaged 2.6 points in 12.4 minutes per game, and he wasn’t doing it for a team that enters the postseason ranked 16th in the country like Delaware is.
“My family told me, ‘You have to wait your turn. It’s a learning year,’” Green said. “Coming into the season, I knew there was a lot of seniors, and I would just have to do my best when I did get a chance to play.
“I’ve got great coaches and teammates, and I’ve learned a lot.”
Martin said it would be difficult for any freshman to step onto this Delaware team and play because of its experience and talent level — the Hens have beaten NCAA qualifiers St. John’s and Villanova out of the Big East, in addition to playing NCAA qualifier Maryland and playing Big East schools Georgetown and Providence.
Martin added that any freshmen who play for her have a lot to learn, particularly because of the style of matchup zone defense that the Hens play, one that Martin said she’s never seen at the high school level.
“In high school, everything’s reactionary,” Martin said. “In college, you have to be able to read defenses. You have to see where the helpside defense is, adjust to the speed of the game, know when to dribble-drive, when to pass out.
“It’s a lot to take in, particularly when you’re joining a team that has a lot of experience with each other and is playing at a high level. We’re not just playing against the CAA. We’ve played Maryland, St. John’s, Villanova — at one point I felt like we were in the Big East. Courtni’s had a great attitude about everything and done what she’s supposed to do to learn our team concept.”
All things considered, Green is actually playing a healthy amount. She’s the only freshman who has played in more than 14 games, and she leads all freshmen and sophomores in minutes per game.
Martin said things haven’t been perfect of course — Green has had inconsistent play at times, and Martin said she had to get on Green to be more aggressive early in the year, which she’s improved on.
Martin clearly wants Green to shoot 3-pointers. Of Green’s 60 field goal attempts, 50 have come from beyond the arc, where she’s knocked down 15. Green is averaging one 3-pointer for every four minutes played, while the next highest ratio on the team is one per eight minutes.
Only four years ago, as a Millbrook freshman, only three of Green’s 319 field goal attempts were 3-point shots. But even as she developed into someone who knocked down 44 percent of her 3-pointers as a senior, see ing Green put the ball on the floor and drive was always a more familiar sight.
“It’s been a change for me,” said Green, who has two games in which she had eight points and four rebounds (Jan. 10 against George Mason and Jan. 20 against Towson). “But in my junior and senior years I really worked on my outside shot more, and I’ve put in the time on it this year.”
When Delaware’s seven seniors depart, Martin fully expects Green to be one the Hens’ main scorers, especially because of the way she’s able to find the bottom of the net during practices.
But the Hens don’t want next year to start too soon. There’s the small matter of attempting to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.
A year ago, Martin felt her team had a hard time adjusting to the structured schedule that comes with being in the NCAA Tournament, and the Hens were a bit awestruck after earning Delaware’s first NCAA berth in five years. Playing the first two rounds on the road, the third-seeded Hens bowed out to No. 11 Kansas in the second round.
But now Delaware has that experience under its belt, and it gets to play at home for up to two rounds at the Bob Carpenter Center, where the games have been sold out for weeks. Many previews of the NCAA Tournament feel having home court — and Delle Donne — could give the Hens a chance to push through against WVU and, if they both win, No. 3 North Carolina in the second round.
“Playing at the Bob, playing in front of such great fans, I think is really going to help,” Green said.
Green said most of her family will be there Sunday, though she’s not sure yet if Erick will be. (TV viewers will likely just have to wait to see if an astute ESPN2 cameraman finds him in the crowd.) Even if Erick Green isn’t in attendance, he’ll likely do what Courtni has been doing with his games.
“Whenever I get the chance, I’ve been rushing home to watch him on TV or the Internet,” Green said. “Seeing him grow as a player has been amazing. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.”
Martin can say the same for Courtni.
“I think [this NCAA Tournament] is going to be a great experience for our freshmen,” Martin said. “We’re really looking for our four freshmen and transfer Joy Caraciollo, as well as our incoming freshmen, to take on a lot next year, and Courtni should be a big part of that.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1