The summer before his sophomore season at Virginia Tech, guard Erick Green made a list of goals and posted it in a conspicuous place in his bedroom. That became a habit the rest of his career.
“I usually put it right beside my door,” Green said. “So when I walked in or when I walked out, I could see it, and it would remind me every day of the goals I set.”
In addition to being a goal setter, Green is also a world-class gym rat. When his coaches say he “lives” in the gym, that isn’t far from wrong. “A lot of times, I would nap in there after my morning workout, wake up, grab some food, come back, work out some more, maybe sleep again,” Green said. “I can’t even remember how much time I spent in the gym, but it was a lot.”
Setting goals and working hard to attain them has turned out OK for Green. After a freshman season during which former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg joked that Green never made a jump shot, he improved his scoring average nine points a game to 11.6. Not satisfied with his .248 success ratio from 3-point range as a sophomore, Green went to work again, and as a junior shot a solid .375 behind the arc and tacked another four points a game onto his scoring average.
Heading into his final season, this time under a new coach, James Johnson, Green set his personal bar higher than ever, but as it turned out, maybe his goals were too modest:
• Atlantic Coast Conference all-defensive team.
• First-team All-ACC.
• ACC player of the year.
• Lead Virginia Tech to the NCAA tournament.
Notice Green didn’t write down leading the nation in scoring. That thought never crossed his mind, perhaps because he knew how rare it was for a power conference player. Not since 1956-57 had an ACC player (South Carolina’s Grady Wallace, 25.4 ppg), led Division I. And not since 1993-94, when Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson averaged 30.3 points, had a player from one of the big six conferences done the deed.
Looking back, forecasting a great senior season for Green should have been easy, just by counting the number of shots he hoisted during marathon workout sessions in the summer of 2012.
“My goal was to make 20,000,” Green said. “My coaches didn’t think I’d get there, but I actually ended up making way more than that. There were mornings where I shot 1,000, and then I’d come back in the afternoon and shoot another 1,000. To get to 20,000, I had to make more than 500 every day. My arm was sore, my wrist, my elbow. Everything.”
But Green’s hard work paid off. He didn’t end up making the ACC all-defensive team, and Virginia Tech, which finished 13-19, never had a chance at the NCAA tournament. But Green bagged all his other goals and added one more, too. Averaging 25.0 points, he led the nation in scoring.
That was an impressive enough feat by itself. It was even more so considering that, a month into the season and Green averaging 24.3 points, it was obvious he was the Hokies’ first, second and third scoring options and was on his way to a monster year. But despite double and sometimes triple teaming, Green always got his points. He reached double figures in every game, and scored less than 20 just four times. He finished with 801 points, cruising past Bimbo Coles’ record of 785 that had stood since the 1989-90 season.
There’s more. Green didn’t rack up all those points to the exclusion of others. Some NBA scouts have considered Green—who measured 6-foot-1 and a half at the Chicago combine—a two guard in a point guard’s body, so he spent his final season trying to prove he could be a facilitator of offense. He averaged a career-high 3.8 assists, passing for one on 27 percent of his possessions, off the charts for a player who also led the nation in scoring.
“He’s playing his game,” Johnson said during the season. “He’s not forcing anything, trying to get the scoring title. In fact, sometimes I’d like for him to be more aggressive.”
ACC coaches were duly impressed with Green’s handiwork.
“He’s led that team and he hasn’t had all the resources around him, and he still puts up those numbers,” said Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. “Just a terrific performance all year.”
It wasn’t easy.
“Getting guys open, finding my teammates, wasn’t too hard, because everybody was keying on me,” Green said. “I’d come down the floor sometimes, and there’d be two, maybe three guys waiting on me. It was tiring. There were nights I’d go home and I wouldn’t move from my bed. Sometimes I’d even have to cut my workouts down to one a day.”
These days, Green finds himself in a similar grind, but it’s one he’ll happily endure. He’s worked out for 12 NBA teams so far, and before the June 27 Draft he’ll have worked out for four or five more. Along the way, Green’s draft stock has risen as he’s proven to teams he can do a lot more than just put the ball in the hole.
Green’s agent Alex Saratsis doesn’t deal in hype, so his take on what his client can bring to the NBA is as balanced as any neutral observer’s.
“If you’re a team looking to swing for the fences and drafting someone who can become a superstar, if you’re looking for someone to wow you in a workout with a 45-inch vertical jump but doesn’t know how to play basketball, that’s not Eric,” Saratsis said. “But if you’re a team that’s competitive, drafting in the 20s [in the first round], Erick is a guy who can come in and make contributions right away.
“Teams that do a really good job of scouting and place a lot of emphasis on work ethic, skill level and personality are really going to take a strong look at Eric.”
NBA teams have no doubt learned of Green’s support system. His father was his AAU coach, and his mother, who played college basketball at Howard, is a strong presence and exacting critic.
“My father, he was the one who first put the ball in my hands,” Green said. “He’s been there from the jump. And my mother was always shooting around with me, making sure I stayed in the gym. She still calls me before games, after games. And it doesn’t matter if I had 30, she’ll still find something wrong with my game. Both my parents together, that’s the reason I’m where I’m at today. Their work ethic has really pushed me.”
That work ethic may soon allow Green to check off the one goal that has appeared on his list year after year. NBA scouting director Ryan Blake thinks Green has first-round potential.
“It only takes one team,” Blake said, [but] he will be sought after by many teams. I like the fact that he is versatile enough to play the point or two guard with the ability to run the pick and roll, be a playmaker and have a scoring mentality—with very good range—while keeping a low turnover percentage. He can get to the line and add versatility on both ends of the floor.”
Asked for an NBA comparison of his client, Saratsis had one readily available.
“You hear a lot of comparisons to George Hill,” Saratsis said.
There aren’t many teams that could pass on the next George Hill. Green shies away from comparisons, but he can guarantee one thing to whatever team drafts him.
“I’m going to work hard,” Green said. “That’s all I know how to do.”