Jalen Green is a walking dichotomy.
The high schooler’s on-court persona—the brash showman who never met a player he didn’t want to posterize, the guy who yells after volleyball-spiking opponents’ shots against the backboard and pulls off in-game between-the-legs dunks before smiling at the cameras on the baseline—seems made for the spotlight.
Yet off the court, Green shies away from the notoriety. “I just love to hoop,” the 6' 5" combo guard says. “All the extra attention that comes with it—it’s not really my thing.”
It may seem like an odd mentality for an 18-year-old who is, for all intents and purposes, famous. Green’s highlight videos have amassed more than 20 million views on YouTube, his following on Instagram is swiftly approaching a cool million (currently 843K) and he’s mobbed by fans for selfies and autographs before and after every game.
“I get that it’s all a part of this world,” Green says. “But I don’t really love the attention. I appreciate it, but I don’t need it. My family is like a buffer for me, so I don’t have to deal with all the extra stuff. I just concentrate on the game.”
That tunnel-vision approach, combined with his unique on-court abilities, has people labeling him a “unicorn," with his name floating around the top of 2021 NBA mock drafts. This year, it all added up to earn him SI All-American’s inaugural Player of the Year honor.
In addition to winning POY, Green was one of 15 players picked for the inaugural SI All-American Boys Basketball Team, highlighting the top high school basketball players in the country, regardless of class. Each player displayed exceptional dominance this season, exhibiting a level of play that will make him a household name at the next level.
Green is joined on SI’s first team by Cade Cunningham of Montverde (Fla.) Academy, Sharife Cooper of McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.) High School, Scottie Barnes of Montverde (Fla.) Academy and Greg Brown of Vandegrift (Austin) High School.
This season, Green averaged 31.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and five assists for Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.), which finished 31–3 and took home the Grind Session World Championship.
Last summer Green was one of the most dominant players on the most grueling shoe circuit, the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, averaging 23.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and three assists. Still, he shelved the positives and focused on one perceived negative aspect of his game, his three-point efficiency.
“I was definitely aware of what people kept saying about me,” Green said. “Like, I’m just a dunker and I can only get to the rim. I really didn’t like that.”
Green shot 29% from deep over the summer with Team WhyNot (Calif.), but by the time this season ended at Prolific Prep, he was up to 43%.
“It was just a confidence thing for me,” says Green. “It was like my mind clicked and I focused on what I always work on with my shooting mechanics, keeping my arch higher. Mostly, though, I was motivated by people doubting me.”
Green’s peers certainly don’t fall into that category.
Cooper, a fellow SI All-American first-teamer, said that even more than Green’s unreal athleticism and scoring ability, the guard’s greatest skill is his “feel for the game.”
“He has every ability a player needs; he can do it all,” said Cooper, an Auburn signee. “I watch lots of basketball, and there's always guys you look at and say, ‘I want to play with him.’ Out of anybody in the 2020 class, he's the guy I’d want to go to war with.”
Burnett can attest.
Green transferred to Prolific Prep this season from San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno, Calif.). The year before, Burnett was the Crew’s leading scorer, pumping in 25 points per game.
He teamed up with Green for Team WhyNot last summer and said he “never thought twice” about sharing the spotlight with Green, who went on to break Prolific Prep’s single season scoring record with 1,008 points.
“He’s not one of those guys who thinks he knows everything because of who he is,” said Burnett, a Texas Tech signee. “He asks questions and is always wanting to learn. He’s so deserving of the Player of the Year award because he’s more of a hard worker than he is talented. That’s saying a lot.”
Prolific Prep coach Joey Fuca echoed those sentiments, calling Green the “hardest working player I’ve coached.”
“Jalen is a first-class young man,” Fuca said. “His skill set is so far ahead of everyone else; just a great teammate and true leader.”
Come April 15, Green will upgrade the roster of one lucky college.
True to his anti-attention-seeking behavior, SI’s Player of the Year never announced a cut to his massive list of college suitors, a common practice among elite players.
Still, most contend that Auburn, Memphis, Oregon, Florida State, USC and Fresno State are strong with Green. Kentucky was once thought to be a contender to land him, but the Wildcats are on the outside looking in at this point.
Green has long been rumored to be considering taking the prep-to-pro route and playing a year overseas instead of attending college, an option he maintains that he’s “open” to.
“It's honestly exciting for me to make my decision,” Green said. “It’s time. It’s the next chapter for me, and I’m ready to turn the page.”