In the lead up to the 2013/14 NCAA division 1 college basketball season, Damian Arsenis counts down his pre-season selections to The Pick and Roll All-Australian First Team in a series that includes interviews with all five players.
Securing the point guard position in the pre-season All-Australian First team is Tasmanian prodigy Hugh Greenwood of New Mexico.
#3 | Hugh Greenwood, New Mexico
From the unlikely Island state of Tasmania, Hugh Greenwood emerged as a talented junior with a family pedigree that includes a mother who attended the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) for basketball and a father who played water polo. As a standout junior hoops prodigy, he dominated at Australian National Championships and at the age of 15 was the youngest scholarship holder and longest serving athlete in AIS history. He has already gained widespread attention and accolades in representing Australian on the world stage at one U17 and two U19 FIBA World Championships, and has also tasted life with the Australian national senior team. It was at the 2011 U19 FIBA World Championships that he made the world sit up and take notice, as he averaged 17.1 points, 2.6 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game that including a 26 point explosion against the United States, before being named to the tournament all-star five.
As a Lobo, Greenwood has enjoyed success in helping his team to the top of the Mountain West Conference and in earning a berth in the NCAA tournament. However his college career to date has been hampered by injury, and despite also playing on a loaded team, he has managed to play his role to near perfection. He was just one of two Lobos to start every game last season (the other was Tony Snell) in averaging 7.o points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game as a sophomore. Already considered as one of the best defensive guards in the league, Greenwood gained individual recognition through being named as an All-Mountain West Conference Honorable mention and named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list (an award for collegiate point guards) last season. Demonstrating that he is more than just an athlete, Greenwood was also named to the All-Academic Mountain West Conference team.
Now injury free, the combo guard is ready to step up and help shoulder more of the scoring load in a season where the expectations for the Lobos remain extremely high. With his calm and composed on-court presence, Greenwood is sure to be at the forefront of any Lobos success and leading by example.
The Pick and Roll’s exclusive interview with: Hugh Greenwood
Damian: I’m from Melbourne and I am not too familiar with your progression through the junior basketball ranks in Tasmania. Can you tell me what led to you taking up basketball and fill me in on where you played most of your junior basketball growing up? I believe you had extensive experience in representing Tassie (Tasmania) at Australian nationals?
Hugh: I actually played a lot of footy (Australian Rules Football) growing up, however my mum had a big influence in me taking up basketball as well. She actually went to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and attended in their first year, I think back in 1983 (then Andree Marquis). So I played both football and basketball, representing my state in both sports at nationals.
Damian: There have been many good basketball players who have either played at the AIS or attended college who have then returned to Australian Rules football; Ryan Bathie from Nicholls State who is now playing in the Victorian Football League (VFL) and Scott Pendlebury who attended the AIS before becoming an Australian Football League (AFL) star at Collingwood. Please don’t tell me you will join them!
Hugh: Yeah, there have been some good basketball players head back to football. There was also Kurt Tippett who played nationals for basketball now in the AFL. A guy called Cornelius from Tasmania made it with Brisbane, and then there was Ben Dowdell (Santa Clara) who is now with Adelaide. I’m not considering a return to football at this stage, just focusing on the basketball and then we can see where that takes me after I get my degree.
Damian: Glad to hear that, but then again I’m biased!So what made you choose basketball over football?
Hugh: I think it was the cold nights down in Tassie out on the football field! Basketball was more social and I made more friends through basketball, and with my mum as coach I guess I just enjoyed it more. When I was 15 and before I even was offered a scholarship with the AIS I invited to tour Italy with the AIS team. I guess with basketball there is an amazing opportunity to travel the world, and footy is just within Australia. That aspect of being able to travel the world, hopefully compete at an Olympic Games and play in a World Championship, is probably the biggest thing rather than just staying back in Australia.
Damian: I think you have a good future ahead of you for hoops, so I trust you will stick with that. So what are you currently studying?
Hugh: I’m currently studying psychology is my major, and communications will be my minor. I hope to eventually put that into coaching hoops. I’ve been taking a particular interest in the coaching staff over here, and of course the money that they make over here, well it would not be a bad gig. The money they make over here is just insane. Its nuts!
Damian: You called the AIS home for quite some time I believe. Everyone’s experience is different; what was it like for you?
Hugh: Well I was there for 4 years – much longer than for most as I attended when I was 15 and then left after I had turned 19. My experience prepared me quite well for college as I had already moved away from home and been away for quite some time at such a young age. When I first got there everyone was 2 years older than me so I matured quite quickly. I was also competing against men in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) and we made the finals in my first year. I then played for the Hobart Chargers after leaving the AIS before coming here (New Mexico).
Damian: So what is the major difference between your experience at the AIS and playing in the SEABL compared to your now 2 years at college with the Lobos?
Hugh: The basketball over here (New Mexico) is just on another level. Playing here at The Pit in front of 15-16,000 people each game, I just wasn’t used to that. At the AIS when we played in the training hall, we would be lucky to have 30 people turn up to the game! Going from such small crowds to being on court at The Pit front of almost 16,000 people is just insane. Over here there is also more of an emphasis on school as well. Not that there wasn’t at the AIS, however in order to compete we had to travel and we didn’t always have a lot of time to study. We were always travelling internationally and competing as that was the priority – to play sport. Over here basketball is just as important; however you can’t play if you are not achieving your grades. Over here it is all about balancing basketball with study.
Damian: So after 4 years at the AIS which is quite a long time, how was it that you ended up at New Mexico?
Hugh: It was funny. I had 4 schools that I was really keen on. I was originally going to visit Butler, Purdue, Saint Mary’s and Arkansas. However I left it pretty late, and therefore Butler and Purdue went their separate ways, and then Arkansas ended up signing someone else. I was meant to visit Arkansas and had flown to Melbourne and was about to board my flight to Los Angeles. I then got a call from Arkansaw to say that they had already signed someone in the same position so they no longer had a scholarship for me. However going back to when Purdue and Butler pulled out, I actually started to contact some schools directly, especially the ones that had shown interest earlier on. One of those schools was New Mexico and they were still keen on me coming over for a visit. When I came here to visit, my Assistant Coach was Ryan Miller who had played professionally in Australia. Also, I had a very good friendship with Cameron Bairstow after spending 2 years together at the AIS. Once I got here I fell in love with the place. Great coaching staff, great bunch of guys, and when you see the facilities that they have here it was really hard to say no. From the first time I stepped on campus, I pretty much knew that this was the place that I was going to come to.
Damian: I’ve never been there myself, but I have heard a lot of The Pit. Apparently it is one of the most impressive venues going around in college basketball. I’ve also heard it can be quite daunting for visiting teams.
Hugh: You can use as many of those descriptive words as you want and you would be right! It’s just insane. It is the history of the place and the noise that the fans can create – it’s just insane! The court is around 37 feet underground, so the noise just gets trapped, and with nearly 16,000 people it can get pretty crazy. Being the only ‘show’ in town – there are no professional sports teams in town – Lobos basketball is pretty much it. We are in a basketball crazy town, and we love it!
Damian: As you have been away from home now for the last 6-7 years, what do you miss most about home? Is living abroad the new lifestyle for you?
Hugh: I love Tassie, and I miss my family and friends the most. I grew up on the beach and yet I moved to Canberra, the only capital city in Australia nowhere near the coast, and now I am in the desert living in New Mexico. So I’ve been away from the water for a while now. My sister however has now come over to New Mexico on scholarship with the women’s team. I now get to hang out with her which is pretty cool and not something I have really been able to do over the last 6-7 years. I miss the people back in Tassie more so than the place. However maybe when I eventually retire I might consider moving back, but I can’t see myself moving back there any time soon.
Damian: Hopefully you will be playing hoops overseas for many more years just yet! You play for the Lobos in the Mountain West, a mid-major conference that has over the last few years moved up to the upper echelon of college conferences.
Hugh: When you get into all the technical stuff like RPI and our conference has been in second or third for most of the year behind the Big 10 or something like that. Unfortunately our conference didn’t perform too well in the NCAA Tournament. But in saying that, we were one of the best conferences in the country. It is great for us, not only do we get better at practice in being one of the top schools in the country, but we also play against some of the best teams in the country on a regular basis. We therefore get better individually and as a team. The conference next year has to prove itself in the big dance next year.
Damian: Hopefully it is New Mexico leading the way. Given you regularly go up against some of the best teams and players in the country, which team or player that you have gone up against do you consider the most challenging to date?
Hugh: We played against a number of teams who had players drafted to the NBA. We played 3 games against UNLV and 2013 #1 NBA draft pick Anthony Bennett and he was a standout. I think we played against 8 players during the season who were drafted to the NBA and they were all tough, with 4 drafted from our conference. Personally, the toughest player I went head to head with was probably Nate Wolters of South Dakota State. He came to The Pit, and I’m pretty sound defensively but he was one guy I had trouble stopping and he got drafted in the second round. Anthony Bennett though was just a freak – a grown man as a freshman and he was a monster. Playing against such good teams and players can only make you a better player.
Damian: In the Mountain West Conference there is also another team with an Aussie connection in Boise State. I believe that the Aussies there have a target on your back this coming season. Is there a growing rivalry happening there between the Lobos and Broncos?
Hugh: The ‘Boise Boys’! We trash talk with those guys a lot, but they’re going to be really good this year too. Last year they were really competitive but we were fortunate to knock them off both at home and on their place. Last season we beat them in overtime on their floor, and in my freshman year we beat them in the last conference game to win the conference championship. Drmic and Iggy (Hadziomerovic) are really competitive too, and along with Cam and I, we all played together on the same AIS team. They also have another Aussie in Nick Duncan who has joined them this season. So they are going to be really good. Between us and them, we are both projected to be first, second or third in our conference. It’s going to be tough this year but we always look forward to the challenge.
Damian: I spoke with Anthony (Drmic) recently and he stated that the Broncos were out to topple the Lobos this season. But he did mention that once the game is over, everything is swept aside and you all get along well.
Hugh: Yeah I would have expected that! I actually got him with an unsportsmanlike foul last time we played him too. I hit him with an accidental elbow. I’m looking forward to the next matchup that’s for sure.
Damian: Well he didn’t mention that so there does not appear to be any grudge being held there! So you have also previously represented Australia in two U19 FIBA World Championships, and I believe named to the all-tournament first team in 2011? Pretty good recognition right there on the world stage
Hugh: Yeah that’s right. 2009 was the first one in New Zealand, and the one in 2011 was in Latvia. Being named to the all-tournament first team or All-Star 5 is probably the biggest individual achievement so far in my career. In 2011 we finished on top of our pool but had a really tough crossover game against Serbia and we ended up having to play the USA for 5th place which we lost by 1 point. I actually had the last shot to win the game but unfortunately missed it. In 2009 we finished fourth in New Zealand and lost to Greece in the bronze medal game. Both experiences were amazing.
Damian: I believe that you have also previously played for the Australian Boomers in some international tournaments?
Hugh: That’s right. I have played in a couple of international tournaments with the Boomers, including the Boris Stankovic Cup a few times, and a 3-game international friendly series against Argentina. I was just 17 when I first played for the Boomers for the first time in China.
Damian: That’s pretty young to play your first game with the senior national team! I actually caught the Melbourne leg of the Argentinian serries and recall you playing a role. Is the goal to get back into the Boomers team to play one of the major tournaments such as the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup?
Hugh: Definitely. I am continually getting better and working on my game. In the past back in Australia I played the 2 or 3 spots, but over here I have been laying the point and enjoying the challenge. I am also healthy for the first time in a long while. I’m expecting to play well and take on a larger role with the team this season, and hopefully make my way back into the Boomers team at some stage.
Damian: Would love to see you pull the Boomers jersey on again in the near future. You did battle a number of niggling injuries throughout last season. What happened and how are you travelling now?
Hugh: I rolled my ankle in the third game at the 2011 U19 World Championships before coming to New Mexico. At the time due to circumstances I just kept playing on it. It never really healed properly, and then at New Mexico I did my ankle again mid-season and again, due to the timing, I could not afford to sit out and allow it to heal. So I kept playing on it and compensated for it and ended up with tendinitis in my other knee! In the past off-season I rested and got my body right as it was the first time I had a break in quite a number of years. I feel a whole lot better for it.
Damian: So with a fit and firing Hugh Greenwood, New Mexico is primed to not only win the Mountain West championship and tournament, but also make a deep run into the NCAA tournament. How does that sound?
Hugh: I hope so, that’s the plan!
Damian: New Mexico boasted Australia’s first ever NBA player in Luc Longley, and since then Ryan Kersten, Cam and you have followed. What legacy did Longley leave behind for you and Cam?
Hugh: Longley set the bar very high for us – he did not do us any favours there! He actually has helped us out through being an Assistant Coach with the Boomers. But he definitely left a great reputation behind at New Mexico that has really helped us a lot. His face is around the school due to being a #7 NBA draft pick and its pretty cool that we are now associated with him. I’m actually trying to get Cam to grow a mullet but he won’t do it.
Damian: If he could grow that mullet, dye it ginger and get a perm, he could resemble Longley back when he was a Lobo! Getting back on track now, where do you see yourself after New Mexico – what will be next for you?
Hugh: The ultimate dream for any athlete is to play at the highest level of your chosen sport. With the success of the guys getting drafted (Tony Snell to the NBA) and with a few having a chance next year, I will slowly move up the pecking order. Obviously I’ve still got a long, long way to go, changing positions, and I feel like my first two years at New Mexico was more as a role player especially given the talent that was on the team. I’m looking forward to this season playing a bigger role this season. I would like to head overseas at some stage, and Italy would seem to be the spot to go. A lot of guys that get drafted in the second round seem to head to Italy to play before getting called back. Joe Ingles and Nathan Jawai have had a lot of success in Spain, and have really enjoyed it. I guess as long as the team was in a good situation in one of these countries then that would also be a great opportunity.
Damian: Playing in the USA or in Europe appears to be the next step in your career path for you. But have you ever thought about coming home to play in the NBL at some stage?
Hugh: Not really. Right now the NBL is not where it used to be, but I am aware it is rebuilding. The Australian league is always going to be there, and maybe I will come back one day. But at this stage I would like to travel, and make the most of my career before I come back to Australia. Maybe I’ll come back when the Hobart Tassie Devils return to the NBL!
Damian: I’ll quote you on that! Now with your younger sister Josie now at New Mexico, what are her on-court expectations?
Hugh: She has no idea right now – she is along for the ride! Seriously though, she is coming off shoulder surgery, and for her it is just about getting back in shape as she was out 6-7 months. She wants to be competitive and jut get better. She gets to come over here and now not only get an education on scholarship, but she also an opportunity to play basketball.
Damian: As you said earlier, it’s just nice to be able to have family around now. So what is something that not too many people know about you that you are willing to share?
Hugh: Not much really. Most people probably would not have known that I also played footy when I was younger. Maybe you would have to ask my sister, my family, or even Cam to provide you with something.
Damian: OK, I’ll ask Cam. So to round out the questions, after having spent plenty of time with Cam over the years, what dirt can you dish up on him?
Hugh: Where to begin! I had to live next door to him for three years…
Damian: So let me get this right; you are as clean as a whistle and never did anything wrong, and then we have Cam who is altogether a different story?
Hugh: Yeah, then you’ve got Cam! I still pick on him too, and if we would ever fight, I would be the one to beat him up! He lifts and looks big and all that, but he really is just a big softy. He is all for show!
Damian: I’ll definitely write that! On that note, I really appreciate your time. I’m glad you’re finally injury free and I’m looking forward to seeing how you guys go and I hope to catch up with you again during the season.
Hugh: Thank you, I appreciate it. And definitely, I always love to do stuff back in Australia, as all my family and friends get the opportunity to hear about it all.
The Pick and Roll’s pre-season All-Australian First Team
#5 | Centre: Angus Brandt, Oregon State
#4 | Forward: Venky Jois, Eastern Washington
#3 | Guard: Hugh Greenwood, New Mexico
#2 | Guard: TBA
#1 | Forward: TBA
Has Damian got it right so far? Share your thoughts on the selections to The Pick and Roll’s pre-season All-Australian First Team to date.