For Indiana State forward Nate Green the defining moment of this
season didn't come on Dec. 11, when his Sycamores traveled to
Bloomington and beat the despised Hoosiers for the first time in
74 years. It wasn't on Dec. 19, either, when Green, a 6'5"
senior swingman, scored a career-high 45 points in a 102-91 OT
win over Eastern Illinois. Green has enjoyed some great moments,
but the one that really stands out came earlier, at an
easy-to-miss Terre Haute eatery called Square Donuts. It was
there, the morning after Indiana State's 89-77 win over TCU on
Nov. 21, that Green was--gasp!--recognized while waiting to buy
a couple of 30-cent, square cream-filled specials. "I was ready
to pay," says Green, "and the guy behind me said, 'I've got the
bill. After the job the refs did on you last night, you need a
break.' I thought, Wow! He knows who I am."
This delights Green, who took it as a sign that after two
decades of playing sorry basketball, the Sycamores--who were led
by Larry Bird when they last reached the NCAA tournament, in
1979--had finally returned to respectability. "When I was
deciding where to go to school, two of my final choices were
here and Minnesota," says Green. "My freshman year, we finished
12-16, Minnesota went to the Final Four, and I drove to
Indianapolis and watched from a nosebleed seat. Sometimes you
wonder if the good times will come."
Now, it seems, they have. Through Sunday, led by Green, who
ranked 11th in the nation with 3.2 steals a game and also paced
Indiana State in scoring (14.3), assists (4.4) and blocks (1.1),
the Sycamores led the Missouri Valley Conference with a 9-2 mark
and were 16-6 overall.
In many ways Green was an unlikely candidate to lead this
revival. While growing up in Des Moines, he was one of the
state's top youth soccer players, a forward on the Iowa United
team that won seven straight state club titles. In hoops at
Roosevelt High he was little more than a gangly big man with no
touch. "Nate had no idea what he was doing," says Rick Ray, an
Indiana State assistant and former assistant at Roosevelt.
When Green was a sophomore, however, Roosevelt coach Greg
Lansing, now an assistant at Iowa, sat Green down in his office.
"He was the first person to tell me that I had a chance to reach
another level in basketball," Green says. "He told me to choose
a position, and he'd mold me into a player. I was always a
center, but I wanted to be a point guard." Green gave up playing
for Iowa United and started to improve in hoops. As a senior he
averaged 18.1 points, 7.0 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals
He has shown similar versatility at Indiana State, with a good
chance to rank in the top 10 in the Missouri Valley in assists,
blocks and steals for the third straight year. Whether that
translates into an NBA opportunity will depend in large part on
Green's mediocre jump shot. He is a tweener slasher--the kind of
player not quite good enough to stick as a 12th man with the
Clippers, but perhaps just right for leading a scrappy,
overlooked college program to a place even sweeter than a dozen
square jelly donuts: the NCAA tournament.