Toughness makes Green UMBC leader Sophomore credits family for resilience

November 18, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Isaac Green's biggest lesson growing up in Newark, N.J., was how "to stay off the streets." He learned it well.

Basketball was the outlet that kept him clear of the temptations confronting a kid who lived "right in the middle of the Newark ghetto."

"I spent most of my time playing ball. There were a lot of problems going on where I grew up. So many players lost it because of the stresses. It was too bad."

Fortunately for the UMBC sophomore forward, he came from a solid family with good values and attended a strong academic school (Science High) that emphasized math and science.

He had to be home from the nearby recreation center every night before the street lights were turned on. The only exception was when he was accompanied by his older cousins.

"The family felt the safest thing was for him to be home and not hanging out," said UMBC coach Tom Sullivan. "They had the right priorities."

"But I'm pretty much thankful," Green said. "Growing up in Newark paid off. It gave me a lot of heart and made me tougher."

That toughness surfaced last season when Green -- going through a 5-22 record as a freshman -- averaged 32.6 minutes a game and became the Big South Conference Rookie of the Year.

But if the Retrievers' freshman class is as talented as Sullivan believes, Green's time on the court will diminish, not increase.

"My hope is that Ike will be able to play less and become even more productive," said Sullivan. "The reason is we have more [talent] surrounding him.

"Last year we were top-heavy [dominated by upperclassmen]. This year we're bottom-heavy [dominated by newcomers]. So, what we're looking for from Ike is for him to mature as much this year as he did last."

Green's sophomore status will thrust him into a leadership position, and he welcomes the challenge.

"I have the most minutes played, so I felt I had to be a leader regardless of my class," said Green. "It's my job to make the four freshmen feel comfortable.

"Mostly, I like to lead by example, but with freshmen you have to be more vocal. So I will do that."

"We'd like him to develop into the team leader," said Sullivan. "The most successful teams always have that. It's good that he wants that role."

Green is not likely to become a prolific scorer. Even in high school, he wasn't one of those guys who burst out with 40-point games. His game high last season was 17.

"I feel I'm more of a rebounder," said Green, 6 feet 6 and 225 pounds. "My goal is to average in double figures in rebounding. But I think I can get the team 15 points a game if I have to."

Green finished third in the Big South in rebounding, averaging 7.5. But he wore down slightly over the long season.

"In high school, you can pretty much overpower people," he explained. "Here, you're playing stronger people, and toward the end, it caught up with me a little. My father [Charlie] told me you have to just keep going."

Concentration on weight lifting and the presence of 6-7, 252-pound Kennedy Okafor should remove some of the pressure inside on Green. In a setting with help and more freedom, he could thrive.

What he wants most now is to win.

"Because we're so young, it's hard to envision how we'll finish," he said. "But if they don't get us early, we might be a team you have to watch out for later.

"We have a deeper bench, the players are bigger and stronger, faster and more athletic. I wasn't used to losing like last year. My first year in high school, we had a losing record, but not like 5-22. My father told me just to keep my head up."

Years later, Ike Green is still getting good advice from home.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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