"I want to win at Arizona": How Josh Green's NCAA debut is taking him closer to the NBA dream
Josh Green is just days away from making his NCAA debut with the Arizona Wildcats. Stepping into the world of collegiate athletics represents the biggest moment yet in Green’s basketball journey. A season with the Wildcats is a necessary next step for the 18-year-old. It is a launchpad for what many, Green included, hopes is a lengthy NBA career.
While there is still so much for Green to achieve within his basketball career, there is already plenty within his past that warrants celebration. Green left Australia as a teenager, having traded in the comfort of his homeland for high school in North America and the AAU circuit. He changed his world and, at an age where most are leaning on the comfort of home to discover their calling, Green began a journey that will culminate on Thursday morning, when he dons the Arizona uniform for the first time against Northern Arizona.
“It has been a very long process,” Green told The Pick and Roll. “From moving over from Australia to the end of my high school career, it has definitely been a long five years and it is just crazy how quick it has all come. There are mixed emotions getting ready for the season. Obviously a little nervous but at the same time, I am more than ready and I feel very excited to get it underway.”
When last seen in competitive basketball action, Green led IMG Academy to the high school national championship. The Sydney native was named MVP of the championship game, earning a spot in the Nationals All-Tournament team in the process, as he anchored a stacked IMG outfit. Green was one of three McDonald’s All-Americans at IMG, playing alongside Armando Bacot and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, both of whom will make their own highly touted NCAA debuts this week with North Carolina and Villanova respectively.
IMG’s talent was undeniable. They were favourites to claim the national championship and they fulfilled that mission. Playing alongside such lofty talent helped Green excel on the hardwood and his surrounding cast facilitated an important lesson for the young Australian. It is one that applies across every level of the sport. Green observed first hand that talent alone isn’t the only requirement of success.
“We had a very good team, with a lot of really good players,” Green says of his IMG championship winning side. “It taught me that you are going to have off days, but it is up to you to make changes and communicate with your teammates about connecting as a whole unit. That taught me how to grow up as a player and play with other great players.”
Having experienced the ultimate triumph at the high school level, Green talks like a young man who has become accustomed to success. Listen to the 18 year old speak, and you quickly identify a simple mission: Green wants to win. It really is as simple as that, and he is finding comfort in the daily grind needed to translate to the NCAA level.
“Initially, my goal is to take it day-by-day and work hard to become the best player I can,” Green explains. “My goal is just to win. I want to win at Arizona. I was lucky enough to win at IMG Academy. I want to take it game by game, practice by practice, and try to be the best defender on the floor at all times.”
Such a granular mindset has helped Green find focus over the past six months. He claims to have added 15 pounds (6.8kg) of body mass over the North American summer, something that was a stated goal when leaving high school. The weight gain is even more impressive given he suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder during the Nike Hoops Summit in April. There was a silver lining to the ailment, though, as Green was able to dedicate more time to studying film and fine tuning his game by watching highlights from a slew of basketball players who have achieved lofty success at the NBA level.
“I have just been sharpening up my game, studying film and breaking down other players,” Green says. “That was a focus when I was going through my injury.
“Richard Hamilton has always been one of my favourite players. Penny Hardaway coming off off-ball screens. I’ve watched Richard Hamilton coming off off-ball screens. Players like Kawhi Leonard, with how defence can lead into offence. I am watching a wide variety of players. Joe Johnson to check out his mid-range pull up and the different ways he can score. It has been a wide variety of players that I am watching. Trying to combine them all and learn from them all.”
There is an undeniable commonality to the names Green references. By listing a slew of two-way wings who have performed at an All-Star level in the NBA, Green gives voice to the style of player he has long been prophesied to become. Green was listed as the 22nd ranked prospect in ESPN’s most recent 2020 NBA Draft projections and is earmarked as a tantalising wing project at the next level.
Within an NCAA context, Green will anchor a Wildcats team with ambitions of returning to the Final Four for the first time since 2001. With Nico Mannion (currently ranked 8th by ESPN) by his side, Arizona start the season ranked 21st in the AP Poll. They have the potential to quickly climb the rankings if their dynamic freshman duo can adapt to the NCAA level.
“College basketball is very competitive and the coaches are very professional,” Green explains. “The coaching staff have been pushing me to become a better player and I feel like I have improved so much just over the past four weeks of practicing within the structured system. They see a lot of potential and they just want me to work as hard as I can, to reach the highest level I can.”
As Green searches for the highest level, he is surrounded by mentorship from those who have lived the path he is about to undertake. DeAndre Ayton, who played at Arizona as a freshman before being selected number one overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, is someone Green has received advice from, as is fellow Australian Ben Simmons.
“Ben has been a great person to reach out to and just talk with,” Green explains. “His biggest thing is just about having fun. This is a serious process but at the same time you want to be having fun whilst playing basketball and doing the thing you love.
“DeAndre Ayton is the same. He has been great for me. The biggest thing he has taught me is to keep going and work hard, as hard as you can. He told me that I just need to work as hard as I can and the improvements you will make as a player will be ridiculous. That is my goal going into every single practice now: just work as hard as I can.”
Josh Green harbours NBA ambitions. It has been the goal ever since he left Australian shores. He is now so close to actualising the dream. In just twelve months, the Green family name will almost certainly be imprinted across the back of an NBA singlet. It’s a fact that is hard not to fixate on, although Green isn’t getting ahead of himself.
Green is willing to state his long-term goal, giving voice to the dreams of the wider Australian basketball community. But the young Australian remains rooted to the present moment in Arizona – the NBA will be an outcome of the process that dominates Green’s immediate focus.
“My biggest focus is staying in the present and being able to be where my feet are. That is a continual goal for me. As good as it is looking into the future and being able think about the future, for now my main focus is college basketball and the upcoming season. Just getting better and better with every single practice.
“The NBA is obviously something I have dreamed of since I was a kid, but four years ago my dream was just being able to play basketball in America and it has all happened so fast.”