Facing the thrill, sadness of one last game

March 01, 2009|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,rick.maese@baltsun.com

Jay Greene has been looking forward to this day. He has also been dreading it.

"I can definitely feel it," he says. "I'm excited, but I'm also not excited. It's just a lot of emotions."

Saying goodbye isn't always easy. Greene has been picturing this game - Senior Day - for months. It's the final home game for UMBC and the final regular-season game of Greene's college career.

And as much as he has thought about it, he still doesn't know how he'll react. Greene knows he'll hear his name. He knows he'll see one of his best friends, fellow senior Darryl Proctor, introduced to the crowd. He knows his coach, Randy Monroe, will probably get choked up. He knows when he looks into the stands, he'll see several hundred classmates - and just as many family members and friends.

In fact, three buses are expected to make the 2 1/2 -hour trek from Whitehall, Pa., to Baltimore today - about 170 people altogether - to watch Greene play one final time. They have good reason. If you've seen Greene in person, you know he's pretty special to watch.

Monroe likes to delve into metaphors to describe his gritty point guard: "He's the straw that stirs the drink, he's the sugar in our Kool-Aid, the lemon in our lemonade."

By now, I guess it's probably OK to come clean on something. NCAA investigators shouldn't mind. With Greene's career nearly finished, opposing coaches won't whine too much. OK, here goes - deep breath - Greene isn't really 5 feet 8.

Whew, that wasn't so bad. All this time, you've been watching the Retrievers point guard bounce around the floor like a Red Bull-sponsored pinball, and you thought he was 5-8, his listed height since his freshman season.

In fact, he's only 5-7 and some change.

It only makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable.

Proctor transferred to UMBC from Coppin State a couple of years ago. He had heard about the Retrievers' small point guard, the guy who could jack up shots from all over the court and who could find an open man with his eyes closed.

"When I actually saw him for the first time, I was like, man, this guy is small," Proctor says. "But they all told me he was good. I didn't understand how good until I actually played with him."

Here he is now, preparing for his final home game. Greene is already the school's all-time assists leader. (In fact, the only Division I point guards in state history to amass more assists are Maryland's Steve Blake and Navy's Doug Wojcik.) He's 13th in the nation in assists (6.3 per game) and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (6.3-2.2). Oh, and he can score, too. A couple of weeks ago against New Hampshire, Greene had 36 points, shooting 12-for-18 from the field.

This is why he's the cream in Monroe's coffee, the sugar cube in his tea, the Splenda in his ... oh, you get the idea.

"I know a lot of people were afraid of his size," Monroe says. "But when you really put all of that aside and look at what he could do, how he plays the game, his feel for the game, how he sees the court - and not just what he's looking at, but how he sees the floor - he just had a high-level basketball IQ."

Greene joined the Retrievers in 2005, Monroe's second season. They had suffered through five straight losing seasons until winning the America East title last year, making the program's first trip to the NCAA tournament.

Monroe says he'll always look back on guys such as Greene and Proctor and see young men who laid the foundation for a program.

"It's hard to look at it while it's going on, but hopefully this is something we'll look back on someday and really appreciate," Greene says. "I'm just glad to be a part of something that's growing, proud that I was able to give back."

Despite the play of Greene and Proctor, expectations for this season have outpaced results. UMBC enters today's regular-season finale 12-16, 6-9 in conference. The Retrievers struggled with inconsistency, watched three underclassmen quit the program early in the season and couldn't find a groove until this month, when they strung together wins against Maine, New Hampshire and Hartford. UMBC has since lost three straight and realizes it'll need some momentum in the conference tournament to match last season's success.

Not only aren't the Retrievers ruling out such a run, but they're also counting on one. Monroe says as long as he has Proctor and Greene on the court, he believes anything is possible. And Greene says as long as there's a bit of sand still in the hourglass, he'll keep bouncing all over the court.

"I want to prolong my college career as long as possible," Greene says. "I have more basketball in me. It's weird to think about. Just like that, it could be all over."

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