Tyler Hansbrough's free throw was uncharacteristically short. As the ball bounced back into the key, his North Carolina teammate Danny Green, though boxed out by LSU's Tasmin Mitchell, to whom Green gave an inch and 20 sturdy pounds, leapt above the crowded lane. His left arm entangled with Mitchell, Green used his available right hand to punch out the loose ball some 25 feet to an open Wayne Ellington beyond the three-point line. Ellington dribbled once and sank the three. By the time the ball fell through the net to give UNC its first lead of the second-round NCAA tournament game, Green had already circled from the lane to the left corner, to the top of the key and then down to the right block, putting himself in position in case of another miss.
During the next television timeout, Green's father, Danny Sr., thumbed out a text message, "U see the tap out of the missed free throw that's a 5pt turnaround and the small things I'm talking about."
Green, a 6-6 wing player, is just as apt to direct a loose ball to an open teammate as he is to spring someone with a hard screen or to hit the big shot himself. He's the team's resident stat-stuffer, contributing across the scoresheet, depending on what UNC needs on a given night, which is reflected by his single-game career highs: 26 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, seven blocks and six steals. Green was the sixth man for three years, leading all Tar Heel bench players in scoring each season. Given a starting role as a senior, he has produced in every category, averaging 13.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.3 blocks and 41.5 percent shooting on threes.
With seven minutes to play and UNC leading LSU by four, Green squared for an open three to the left of the key. A miss. But Ellington chased down the long rebound in the right corner, and kicked the ball back to Green, still standing in the same spot, still open. Green unloaded again. A hit. UNC took a seven-point lead and never looked back en route to an 84-70 win. The cell phone buzzed. Another text message from Danny Sr., this one reading, "That was a back breaker three and took a lot of guts to shoot."
****** Earlier in Danny's college career, his father rarely missed a game. He and a friend would drive nine hours from the Green family home on Long Island to Chapel Hill, sometimes even turning around and driving right back after the game. For UNC's first two tournament games in Greensboro, Danny Sr. only had his youngest son, three-year-old Dante, as a passenger, so he couldn't share the driving. Instead, he was behind the wheel for the full 10 hours, twice pulling alongside the highway for a short nap. "Nothing was going to stop me from being here," he says.
After all, Danny Sr. had missed two seasons of watching his son play in person. He returned with the fervor of a convert. As Danny defended LSU's top scorer, Marcus Thornton, in front of the UNC bench, his father leaned forward from the fourth row. Cupping his hands to his face, Danny Sr. shouted encouragement -- and probably some advice -- to his son.
An hour before tipoff, as Danny Sr., clad head-to-toe in Carolina apparel, entered Greensboro Coliseum, an usher recognized him as the father of the beloved senior, warmly extended a hand and said how much he's enjoyed watching Danny play the last four years. It's a sentiment Danny Sr. has heard a lot recently, about how Danny signs his autograph for every child who asks and how well liked he is by everyone at Carolina. "This is nice," says Danny Sr, gesturing toward the UNC and LSU players warming up on the court, "and it's on TV, but it's not what I care about. It's the little things."
Basketball had always come naturally to Danny. By the time he was four, he could shoot and dribble with both hands when playing on the plastic hoop from Toys R Us. Even when he went swimming in the family's backyard pool, he'd pull the basket to the side of the pool and shoot from the water. Growing up, Danny had one waking passion: basketball. "He'd just play basketball and sleep," says Danny's brother, Rashad. "I think that's how he grew those extra inches. He'd hibernate. All of a sudden, he was 6-6." When he was 11, his mother left his father, Danny, Rashad and baby Devonte on their own. Almost every night, the three older Greens would play basketball, either in the backyard or in the gym at the Town Annex.
Danny's hoops talent was obvious at an early age. Before transferring to St. Mary's, he played varsity as a ninth grader at his dad's alma mater, North Babylon High, and led the team in scoring. At the Five Star Camp in 2004, he sprained his right wrist on the first day. Rather than pull out, he played left-handed the rest of the week and still made the all-star team. As a senior, he averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocks and was named a McDonald's All-American.
Like many coaching fathers, Danny Sr., who previously was an elementary school P.E. teacher and an assistant coach for the North Babylon High girls team, hasn't always shared his high praise with his son. "I'm probably the worst critic of my kids," he says. Danny says that's no longer the case. "He was way harsher in the past," he says. "Now it's more constructive. It's laid out in a more positive way, that I should look for this or look for that."
But for all the pointed suggestions Danny Sr. imparts to his sons -- Danny's brother Rashad, 20, is a redshirt sophomore at San Francisco and Devonte, 12, plays AAU ball -- he is, at his core, a proud father, prone to sending unprompted praise for his sons to anyone willing to listen. "If everyone went away for even six months," says Danny Sr., "they'd really appreciate the little things."
****** The advice has never stopped, but for 22 months, it was restricted and remote.
On March 31, 2006, Danny Green Sr. was arrested on conspiracy charges as part of a drug bust that reportedly yielded more than 400 pounds of cocaine and $5 million in cash. Though Danny Sr. maintained his innocence, he was one of 14 co-defendants, so a trial date was a long time in the making. He eventually took a plea deal on a reduced charge, a Class B felony that carried a 1-3 year sentence, including time served, and he was released on Jan. 28, 2008.
While incarcerated at the Riverhead Correctional Facility on Long Island, Danny Sr. could not receive calls but could dial out to Danny with some regularity, often twice per week and usually the day after UNC played. Most Carolina games are on basic cable TV, so he still saw his son play and would phone with advice. He joked that Danny would see his number calling and say, "Aw man, it's dad."
But, really, Danny treasured those calls. He has referred to his father as his "best friend," and the separation became more difficult when Danny Sr. was transferred to a second facility in Ogdensburg, where phone calls were more difficult. The two wrote letters instead. Family has always been important to Danny, who has the names of his brothers tattooed on the inside of his bicep and writes ASNF on his sneakers: "A Son Never Forgets." Says Rashad, "That's all we really had [growing up] -- me, him and our father."
As often as he could, Danny shuttled between Chapel Hill and the family home on Long Island, where his younger brothers were being taken care of by his uncle, grandmother and father's fiancée, Sharima. Devonte, a preteen, was at an impressionable age, so Danny would make sure he was neatly dressed and had proper hygiene. "Danny was very good about helping with his brothers," his father says.
Slowly the stress caught up to Danny during his sophomore year. Along with his father's legal troubles came difficulties with the family finances and the fear they may lose their house, so Danny saved whatever money he could from his scholarship to send home. He had just broken up with a college girlfriend and his playing time had been reduced, owing to a logjam among wing players. Green sought refuge in the Dean Dome for solitary shootarounds late at night.
After his release from prison, Danny Sr. is back in sports, co-coaching Devonte's 12-year-old AAU team, the New York Gauchos, and is also working for noted trainer Jerry Powell at Basketball Results on Long Island. The conditions of his parole prevent him from leaving New York without special permission, so he was unable to attend last year's NCAA tournament, but this spring he attended Danny's Senior Night and every postseason game.
Danny downplayed the importance of his father attending his games. "It makes it a lot more fun, of course, and a lot more exciting," he said before the Final Four, "but for the most part, I'm just trying to stay focused on the game."
****** The Danny Green seen by the public is exuberant and quotable. Carolina fans fondly remember his fast-break dunk over Duke's Greg Paulus at Cameron Indoor Stadium in March 2008, in which the hapless 6-3 Paulus' eyes were level with Green's waist, and he's just as famous for his courtside jigs during player introductions at the Dean Dome. "That's the way he's on the court," says Hansbrough, suggesting there's another side to the senior.
Rashad, just 10 ½ months younger than Danny, says his brother was responsible and conservative in high school, and Danny Sr. says his eldest son has always been quiet and reserved. "I don't know where the heck he gets that [dancing] from," says Danny Sr. "I was shocked that he had the courage to go do that." Of course, Danny isn't just a basketball player and a sleeper anymore, either. Senior guard Bobby Frasor says Danny is a "creature of the night. He could be up at any time, and he'll be watching TV, on his computer -- who knows what he's doing."
Speaking of creatures: late in his junior year Danny, wanting a low maintenance pet, bought a baby boa constrictor, a male that he named Jake. But it had a seizure and died on the first day. Green returned to the pet store and got a female, Jade, who has grown to almost five feet now and could reach 10 feet in adulthood. "She's a sweetheart," Danny says. "I spoil her." Jade usually stays in her tank but has been known to slither around the living room as the guys play video games. "I held it one day," says Frasor, "and I thought it was cool until its head perked up and stared at me in the face."
Though Danny Sr. is quick to note -- in an unsolicited email, of course -- that his son is the winningest player in UNC history and the only ACC player to ever amass 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 three-pointers and 150 steals, the father is most excited for one more trip to Chapel Hill, long after the games are over. Danny Sr. plans to return in May and see his son graduate with a degree in communications. So writes the father, "dan accomplished so much @ unc and I'm so proud of him."