Overseas in Spain starting every game for C.B. Gran Canaria 2014 of the ACB, former Florida Gators two-time National Championship-winning point guard Taurean Green took some nearly 45 minutes out of his busy schedule to sit down with OGGOA for a wide-ranging, in-depth interview late Tuesday evening.
Green, one of the four members of the Oh Fours and an integral part to the team’s success from 2005-07, discussed at length his college career and continuing relationship with his Gators teammates and coaches. He also provided some insight into what the current team is going through during their 2011 NCAA Tournament run and how they can improve going forward and make the most out of their opportunity.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: With your father being a former NBA player and college coach as your adviser, what was it about Florida and Billy Donovan that had you winding up playing for the Gators out of high school?
TAUREAN GREEN: “Obviously Coach Donovan was a huge factor, the style of play, Coach [Anthony] Grant was a huge factor, too. It was just basically the style of play, how they get up-and-down [the court], and he’s a guard’s coach. I knew that he played for a great coach in Rick Pitino at Providence, and then he played some years in the NBA. Just from what everybody told me and from what I heard, he’s a guard’s coach and you’ll definitely get better [playing for him]. He’ll give you freedom out there but along with the freedom comes responsibility in running the team.”
AS: Your first year at Florida was obviously an adjustment as there were still a bunch of upperclassmen holding starting roles on the team. How was it walking into a team with established guys like David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson already comfortable with each other and running the show?
TG: “That was good for me. Some guys can adapt – you see freshmen get thrown into the fire right away nowadays. I felt like I needed that year to go against Anthony Roberson and all those guys just to get my feet wet. At the same time, I knew that I was going to be getting better going against Peep every day in practice. They led the way, and we just tried to contribute in whatever way we could.”
AS: You won the SEC Tournament that season and were a No. 4-seed going into the NCAA Tournament. What was it like playing at such a big stage so early in your career?
TG: “It was fun! When I was at Florida, the main thing was we just lived in the moment. We took it game-by-game. We wanted to do stuff that no other team really had done at Florida. We knew that we had David, Matt and Anthony, and we just wanted to contribute in any way we could. The main thing was just going out and playing hard, doing whatever it took to win.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Taurean Green…after the break!
AS: Were you guys surprised that Walsh and Roberson left early? It gave all of you an opportunity to start alongside each other right away.
TG: “Honestly, not really. We really weren’t surprised about that. We knew, once we heard the news that they left, that it was going to be our turn and we had to be ready. That summer we all worked extremely hard in the weight room, on the court, just trying to get better. It all paid off.”
AS: Why wasn’t it a surprise that they left early?
TG: “It was just the vibe we got. We knew they were talented and could play at that level. It was kind of the vibe and kind of what we thought would happen.”
AS: That next year the Gators started off unranked in the polls considering the belief was that the team lost all of its best players. At what point during that 2005-06 season did you guys realize that something special was going on?
TG: “It was after that Coaches vs. Cancer [Classic] in New York, after we beat Wake Forest and went ahead and beat Syracuse. That was just the beginning, but as the season went on and as we started to play games, we thought, ‘This could be a special season.’ We had a great group of guys that loved playing with each other. The sky was the limit for us, and we just wanted to stay focused. Coach Donovan always preached to us, ‘Don’t look ahead to winning the National Championship or the SEC Championship. Let’s just be the best we can be each and every game.’ As long as we came out, executed our game plan and were the best that night, we knew nobody could beat us.”
AS: Coach Donovan has said many of those exact same things this season. He often talks about the team not thinking they are better or further along than they actually are…
TG: “That’s exactly right. With the media, there’s a lot of stuff that was said about us. ‘Florida’s predicted to win. They’re moving along.’ He didn’t want us to get into all of that, reading our clippings, getting satisfied and complacent. He wanted us to stay hungry and have that edge to us each and every game. That’s the main thing that he tries to tell his teams. He told that to us and I’m sure he’s telling that to these guys now. Live in the moment. Each game you got to bring it for 40 minutes, because every game it is one-and-done now.”
AS: Let’s go back to that first title run. You guys entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3-seed; did you feel a bit disrespected considering how well the team played in the regular season and SEC Tournament?
TG: “I don’t think so. As a team we were confident with what we could do. It really didn’t matter where they put us because we felt that the way we were playing, how the season ended, winning the SEC Championship, taking that momentum into the NCAA Tournament, we didn’t care where we were. We just knew that we were tough and we were going to compete and win.”
AS: You had a tough road to get to the title – going through Georgetown, Villanova and then UCLA in the championship game. There was a moment at the end where you had the ball in your hands with the clock winding down and did that little shimmy dance. Was that something you thought out or did it just happen?
TG: “That was just me being happy. Just sitting there, dribbling the ball out and realizing – we did it. That was just emotion – all emotion at the end of the game.”
AS: Obviously there was a lot of talk about Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer declaring for the NBA Draft after that season. I know they made their own decisions independently, but did the four of you sit down and have a talk about trying to repeat? How did all of that go down?
TG: “All of the speculation with Corey, Al and Jo, they had to make their decision for themselves. Jo came from a family who was capable of having money, Al too. Corey was just in a different situation than us because he wasn’t as fortunate. Everybody made their decision themselves and then, toward the end, those guys sat down and talked to me and were just like, ‘Hey man, let’s go do it again.’ That was real special for those guys because those guys could have gone and taken the money. The main reason why they came back was because they loved playing with their teammates. We all loved playing together.”
AS: Bringing the whole starting five back – and basically the entire team with the exception of Adrian Moss – put a ton of outside pressure on you guys. Did you feel that pressure internally and, if so, how did you handle it?
TG: “We knew it was going to be tough. We knew, coming back, that it was going to be even tougher than the previous season. The best thing about the group of guys that we had is we didn’t get complacent. We were happy with what we did the previous year, but we knew we had a big opportunity to come back and do it again. We were all humbled. Coach Donovan did a great job of motivating us. We were motivated, but he let’s us know. He didn’t sugar coat things for us. He kept it real for us and gave us that edge.”
AS: Not to diminish the difficulty of winning each game, but 2007 was pretty much smooth sailing until the end of the regular season when you guys lost three-straight road games before beating Kentucky, dominating the SEC Tournament and eventually winning the second-straight title. Was that just a switch that had to be turned on?
TG: “I believe we went through that in 2005-06 as well. [Editor’s note: They did.] It was just that stretch where we were on the road…we weren’t playing good. I know my dad [Sidney Green] came down after the loss at LSU. He came down and just talked to us and said, ‘Man, you guys are playing tight. You aren’t playing loose. It looks like guys are not having fun out there like you usually do.’ We watched film – two games. It showed on film; we were playing tight, not playing loose. It was good to see that on film. That was good for us. We just got back, Coach Donovan gave that edge back to us, helped us be aggressive. Coming down to the SEC Tournament, we turned it up. That win at Kentucky – that last regular season game – was kind of a momentum shifter for us.”
AS: After the second title you left with the other Oh Fours and were drafted in the second round by the Portland Trail Blazers. Why did you make the decision to try your hand at playing in Europe rather than bouncing around the NBA until you found a permanent landing spot?
TG: “My agent [Andy Miller], he’s really good. He knows what he’s doing. For me, I’m still young. For a professional career, the main thing he emphasized with me is that I’m still young. By me bouncing around, I could have bounced around and played on NBA teams, but I would not be getting that much playing time or experience. The main thing he wanted to do for my career was keep me playing. Keep the rhythm of the game and get better. The Spanish league I’m playing in right now is the best league other than the NBA. There’s a lot of NBA talent here. He wants me to get better. I don’t think I would have gotten better being the third point guard and just sitting on the bench in the NBA. The main thing was just getting over here and playing games, running a ball club and getting better at running the team. Just working on my game.”
AS: You’ve been playing in Europe since 2008 in both Spain and Greece. How do you like playing over there, and what has been the biggest difference you’ve noticed in the European style of play compared to that in the NBA?
TG: “I like it. The main difference is just spacing. The NBA is more about spacing – more space. You’ve got the defensive three seconds [there], while here it is a lot of help. It’s tougher to get in the lane, there’s not a lot of one-on-one. It’s more about the team here, a lot of ball movement and pick-and-rolls. This league is physical, there’s a lot of talent.”
AS: You’re one of the top players on C.B. Gran Canaria and your team is in the top half of the ACB. Talk a little bit about how things are going for you and the team this year.
TG: “Things are going really well. In Greece I averaged 16 points and five assists. Coming here, I’m averaging around nine points and like 3.5 assists. We have a great scorer on our team in Jaycee Carroll. He leads the league in scoring [18.8 points per game] and is our two guard. This is one of the best years I’ve had in terms of that I set the tempo for the game. The rhythm of the game is good, I’m getting guys shots. I’m real comfortable out here now, feeling better each game. I’m doing a lot of stuff I haven’t done in college and my first couple of years out [in the NBA]. I feel like I’m getting better. The main thing is that we’re winning, so it’s all positive.”
AS: How’s your Spanish?
TG: “[Laughing] My Spanish is alright. When people speak Spanish, I understand it, but it’s more difficult for me to talk. When I order food, I’m legit.”
AS: How did you wind up playing for the Georgia national team, and what was that experience like for you?
TG: “When my season was over in Greece last year, I came back and was working out in Chicago with Joakim. My agent called and asked what I thought about it. I was up for it. It gives me better options. At the same time, it allows me to make more money, having a passport. It gives me experience to play on that Georgia national team and get exposure. We qualified for the EuroCup Challenge – a chance to get to the Olympics, so that’s a plus. A lot of scouts will be there. My agent set that all up. He had it all figured out and asked if I wanted to do it.”
AS: How have your relationships with some of your former teammates and coaches changed and/or developed since you left Gainesville, FL? Are you still close with the guys and Coach Donovan? Does everyone speak often?
TG: “It’s tough to talk everyday. Those guys are always traveling. I’m over here in Spain. Lee [Humphrey]’s over in Germany. I talk to those guys at least twice to three times a week. My cousin lives with Jo, so I talk to my cousin and he keeps me updated with Jo. You know Jo, Jo is probably the toughest person to get a hold of. The relationship is still there. We’re still close. I’m getting married this summer [to former dazzler Kristen Youngblood] and [the Oh Fours] are going to be my best men. I talked to Coach Donovan before the SEC Tournament, just catching up and wishing him good luck. The relationship is still there. We’re still together.”
AS: It’s funny you mentioned how hard it is to get in touch with Noah, because I tried to reach out to Brewer when he got traded to the New York Knicks and was told a few times he is the toughest to get a hold of…
TG: “Corey is the worst. I’ll put Corey up there now. Corey is the most impossible person to get a hold of. I had to hunt Corey down on Twitter a little while back. I’m like, ‘Man, what is your number.’ He’s always changing his number.”
AS: Back to Donovan. Fans get to see portions of his pre- and post-game speeches, but what is he like at halftime when the team does not perform well in the first half?
TG: “I’m sure Erving [Walker] gets hit the most out of anybody because he’s the point guard. That’s how it was with me. If you’re not playing well or you’re not doing what you need to do to help the team, he’s going to get on you. It all starts with Erving because he’s the point guard and he has the keys to the team. There were some games that we played where we were winning by 10 [at the half] and he was getting on us because he expects the best out of everybody. If you’re winning by 10, you should be up by 20; winning by 25, he’s going to get on you. That just makes you play at a higher level.”
AS: I know you’ve had a lot of coaches. And I’m not necessarily asking if he’s the best…
TG: “Oh, hands down. Hands down, he’s the best coach that I’ve ever had!”
AS: …in addition to that, how good is he at making halftime adjustments? It seems that – especially this year – the team can go into the half down six or eight points and still end up winning decisively. How proficient is he at making those adjustments and seeing what is being done wrong in the first half?
TG: “He’s the best at that. You see him over there calm during the game. He’ll get fired up sometimes during the first half. But that’s what he’s doing – he’s just watching how the game is, watching how the other team is playing defense, what they’re doing. For me, he’s the best at adjusting at halftime. That all comes from practice because in practice our offensive sets have a lot of options. That way the players know if the team does this, this is what you have to do. For me, he’s the best in terms of X’s and O’s in general.”
AS: You’ve been a huge supporter of the Gators even though you’re a bit removed overseas. Have you had the chance to watch some of their games this season?
TG: “Yeah. I catch them on ESPN3.com. I watched both NCAA Tournament games so far. I watched the SEC games except for Kentucky because I had a game. The only thing that scares me about this team is their first halves. They dig themselves in a little hole in the first half and always come out in the second half and turn it up.”
AS: What are you seeing from this team – both things you like and things you think they can improve on going forward?
TG: “The ball movement is good. Chandler [Parsons] is a mismatch out there for a lot of teams. Chandler has a variety of skill sets so he can shoot it, pass it. The main thing that’s going to push them to the Final Four is the bigs: Vern [on Macklin] and Patric [Young] and Alex Tyus. I think the X-factor, for me, is Alex Tyus. When Alex is playing good, that pushes the team.”
AS: I’ve been critical of Walker throughout his career but especially the last two seasons because he’s had more experience but is still making some of those careless mistakes that bother Coach Donovan. He’s obviously a great player and is absolutely a clutch shooter but continues to make some of the same mistakes you grew from. Like you said, Donovan gives him a lot of freedom but with that comes the responsibility to make the correct decisions. Most glaringly are the times he drives to the hole on much taller defenders and proceeds with the shot rather than controlling his dribble and rolling out. What do you see from his game overall?
TG: “I know what Coach Donovan’s killing him on. What you just said. When he drives down there with the trees, gets caught in the air and he either throws it up and gets blocked or turns it over. Just being too careless. I know that drives Coach Donovan nuts. The thing that I feel he is doing a real good job in is…if he messes up, he forgets about it. He has a short memory and will move on to the next play. He may mess up one or two plays, but he’ll come back with a big play. Coach wants the guards to be aggressive. Erv is only 5’8”, so Erv can be aggressive, but once he gets down in the lane, I think he has to keep his dribble. If he knows he can’t get a clear layup, keep his dribble, let the defense shrink in and kick it out to the shooters.”
AS: The current team is seeing its first real postseason success this year. How do things change as you get deeper in the tournament and reach the Sweet 16?
TG: “The media gets a lot crazier. You get a lot of attention, but honestly I felt that was the only difference. Other than that, the referees are going to let a lot of things go on the court – a lot of things they’d usually call during the regular season or the first few rounds. It’s more physical and you just have to play through it.”
AS: Let’s go back to some of the things you mentioned earlier. Why was Coach Grant so important to your development and those title teams?
TG: “The best thing about Coach Donovan in practice is he’ll get on you. He’s on you, he’s on you, he’s on you. Coach Grant was a good balance. Coach Grant was kind of quiet, but at the same time, he demanded that you compete. So if Coach Donovan is on you, Coach Grant would pull you to the side [and say], ‘This is what you need to do. Come on, just forget about it. Keep playing.’ They were a good balance.
“I’m going to tell you a story…
“He told me during the first championship run…he told me in the SEC Tournament, ‘You know, there’s going to be a game where you’re not going to shoot the ball well and you’re going to win us a ball game just off of your assists and running the team.’ I looked at him like, ‘For real?’ And he said, ‘I’m telling you. Watch.’ That championship game against UCLA, I didn’t make a shot. I probably made one shot. I was one-for-nine with eight assists and one turnover. Right after the game, he told me, ‘Hey, I told you!’ [Laughing] Him and Coach Donovan were key in my development, Corey’s development, Al, Joakim, Lee and Big Chris [Richard]. I think he helped Big Chris out the most.”
AS: The Oh Fours got a lot of praise, but Humphrey and Richard were also huge factors in those title runs. Can you discuss how important they were to the team dynamic?
TG: “Lee was the perfect fit at the two spot for us. We’d get mad at Lee if he didn’t shoot. Lee had the most freedom out of everybody. Our motto was: Layups, dunks, fast breaks and Lee Humphrey. Sometimes Lee would feel bad if he was shooting and wasn’t making [his shots]. He’d feel bad. We’d be like, ‘Lee, so what? If you get a crack, just let it go.’ He was that good of a shooter.
“I feel that it was so tough to guard us because if you doubled down on Al and Jo, they were such good passers that they would kick it out to either me or Lee for a three. You had Corey slashing and even Corey would knock down threes. Chris would come in, say Al got in foul trouble, Chris could start on a lot of other teams. He could have started on any other team in college. He would come in and bang, rebound. Just to have those guys come in, rotate and give us good minutes made us even tougher to prepare for.”
AS: It’s well-known how much of a character Noah is off the court. Is there anything he did while you all were in college that really sticks out in your mind as hysterical?
TG: “There’s too many. One of the funniest things that I remember was our first year on campus. It was during the summer. Me and Jo had the same classes and Corey and Al had the same classes, but we would all walk together around Turlington. Jo would bring his boom box – this boom box that he had – and would just play reggae. He carried the boom box and played it real loud. I was like, ‘Is he seriously bringing this boom box?’ Everybody would be watching. I’d be like, ‘Jo, can you please turn that off?’ He’d be like, “[Mimicking a Jamaican voice] Nah B, I’m getting the vibe. They’re getting the vibe. They love it.’ I always thought that was funny. That’s the thing with Jo, he just doesn’t care.”
AS: Looking back on your career at Florida, what is the one moment you will always remember – either on the court or off the court?
TG: “It’s not just one moment. It’s just every memory that I had with all my roommates, all my teammates, the coaches. My whole three years at Florida was probably the most fun I’ve had playing basketball.”
Photo Credits: Chris Graythen/Getty Images, Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated, Unknown, Andres Cruz, Unknown
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