Greene, mom forever a team

Towson Catholic's Syracuse-bound star keeps memory of his `best friend' close

January 17, 2007|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN REPORTER

April Anderson Greene taught her son, Donte, much more than how to play basketball.

As a federal government employee, she took him around the world and showed him the difference between a game's outcome and real loss.

Today, the Towson Catholic senior is one of the nation's top high school players, with potential that has earned him a scholarship to Syracuse, but because his mother died unexpectedly six years ago and isn't alive to see it, Donte Greene twice tried to throw everything away by attempting suicide.

"My mom was everything," said Greene, 18. "She was my best friend. I was incredibly depressed when I lost her, until I came to realize that the last thing my mother would want me to do was hurt myself."

St. Frances coach William Wells, one of the local coaches trying to stop Greene this season, also coached his mother at the Madison Square Recreation Center. He described her as "a 6-1 power forward who could put the ball on the floor, all business," but she wasn't defined by basketball.

At Baltimore's old Southern High, she was also on the gymnastics, softball and volleyball teams, captained the cheerleaders and sat on the student council. A fellow member of the Class of 1974 and a teacher there remembered her as one who bridged the racial divide between kids from Curtis Bay and Cherry Hill.

Membership in the French Cooking Club hinted at an interest in other cultures. En route to earning a bachelor's degree at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, she climbed the civil service ladder at the National Security Agency. As she took posts at U.S. Department of Defense installations, she was accompanied by her husband, Donnie, a former basketball player at Catonsville High, and then their sons.

Donte was born not far from Munich, and of the winters in Syracuse, said: "It's nowhere near as cold as Germany." After his parents divorced in the mid-1990s, he attended school in Japan, then returned to Germany. Vacations were taken in Hawaii, Guam and Thailand.

He ran on soccer midfields in Asia and Europe. Introduced to volleyball early, Greene played four seasons for the Owls, acquiring discipline in a closely officiated sport. He didn't play organized basketball overseas, but did get schooled by his mother.

"She was quick," Greene said. "Very strong, too."

Heart condition

After her second tour in Germany, his mother, Donte and younger brother Demetrick settled in Hanover, Pa. Just as the details of her NSA work had been classified, she did not share with her sons the extent of her heart condition. Less than a month after she consoled them about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, their world caved in again on Oct. 6, 2001.

"One morning her alarm kept going off," Greene said. "That wasn't like my mom, so I went to her bedroom to check on her. I'm the one who found her."

April Anderson Greene died in her mid-40s. Her ex-husband rushed to his sons and found his oldest's response to the shock odd.

"Donte went to play basketball that afternoon," Donnie Greene said. "He spoke at his mom's funeral. He was just 13, did an excellent job. To look at him, you would think nothing was wrong."

The brothers moved in with their father in a rowhome across from Edmondson Heights Elementary.

"No mom, new school, new friends," said Donnie Greene, who is licensed to haul trailers but drives trucks locally to be a constant presence for his boys. "I knew something was up when Donte started talking in his sleep."

Donte Greene said he twice took a sharp object to his wrists and tried to end his life.

"I was in a downward spiral," he said.

Donnie Greene remembers a long six months before his son's despondence began to lift. Donte worked through his grief, thanks to an extended family, school counselors and his willingness to open up and talk.

Basketball helped, too.

Follows Anthony

Greene joined a church team on the west side. Woodlawn High wanted him badly, but Mike Daniel recruited him to Towson Catholic and steered him to the Mount Royal Recreation Center. It was weeks after Carmelo Anthony, a product of those programs, led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA title, and the Mount Royal coaches had a captive eighth-grader on their hands.

After Greene's sophomore season, Towson Catholic forced Daniel to resign and hired Josh Pratt, who remains grateful that Greene didn't transfer.

"The kid is just not built like that," Daniel said. "With all of the world he's seen, basketball might not even be Donte's final cup of tea."

After earning a Syracuse offer with his play in the summer of 2005, Greene nonetheless remained a self-starter on the AAU circuit.

"When he came home from [Nike camp in] Indianapolis last summer," Pratt said, "I told him, `Just keep doing whatever you've been doing.' I can't take credit for that."

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