Coach Jeff Green keeping quiet – for now

18:10, Feb 05 2014

For a man who spent so long in the spotlight, Jeff Green appears remarkably content in the shadows.

The former bad boy of basketball has spent his recent years coaching secondary school teams and working in a development role.

And he says that's how he's happy for it to stay - or so it seems.

But there are two things Green possesses that may yet change his status - his love of coaching and his sizeable ego.

Keep Green talking hoops, and eventually he'll admit that there's still a few things he would like to achieve in the game, back in the public glare.

That could possibly include taking charge of a New Zealand women's team in the Australian National Basketball League competition, a return as coach of a team in the NBL, or even a chance as Tall Blacks coach.

Since his exit as coach of the NZ Breakers side he helped set up to enter the ANBL in 2003, Green has kept a low profile. That's greatly in contrast to his coaching career, when he was seemingly forever in the news for his errant sideline behaviour or colourful off-court quotes, while he also made headlines during his stint as special projects manager with Tainui.

He has spent seven years turning Hamilton's Fraser High School into a force at national secondary school level with their senior boys and girls teams, while also coaching the NZ Maori men's side and working as a development coach for Fiba throughout Oceania.

Green, 56, says he relishes his work with Fraser.

"I should have coached high school basketball years ago - I really enjoy it.

"I don't know why I didn't coach high school basketball before. I probably didn't have time. But I love it - to see the building blocks put in place and see the kids' development ... absolutely love it."

Green coach the NZ Maori men' side to a gold medal last year at the Fiba Oceania Pacific champs and will this week take plenty of pride in the inaugural national Maori basketball tournament at Rotorua.

"It was something we thought was needed," Green said of the tournament that will also include age-group and wheelchair teams.

"Maori tennis, Maori golf, Maori rugby have been well-established, but not basketball. Now we're affiliated with Basketball NZ as a sub-association.

"We'll now have that tournament every year."

Green has taken the NZ Maori men's team to Hawaii for the past three or four years.

"We also take developing players so the US colleges can have a look at them.

"Jordan Ngatai got a scholarship at BYU Hawaii and Duane Bailey had one at Chaminade but he chose to go to the Breakers.

"All these things are great for the development of Maori basketball, and this year we're going to take an under-19 team to the Indigenous Indian Games at Arizona."

Green's work with Fiba in Oceania has him mentoring coaches.

"For example, if there's a team like Vanuatu preparing for the Youth Olympics, I'll spend time there.

"I really enjoy that, as we don't know how lucky we are here. Vanuatu don't have an indoor stadium, they practice outdoors on coral concrete in bare feet.

"We went to the Youth Olympics in Singapore a couple of years back and none of them had shoes, so we got them new Nikes. They all wore them the first day, the next day just about all of them came back in bare feet. I asked them - 'where are your shoes?'

"'Oh, they hurt my feet, I'd rather run around in bare feet'," they said.

"It's a humbling experience, and I loved it."

"That's all I do - and that's what I want to do ... just coach. I haven't worked a real job for six or seven years now."

Green won NBL titles as coach of Hutt Valley in 1991 and 1993 and guided Waikato to consecutive titles in 2001 and 2002.

He then was instrumental in persuading Waikato businessmen Michael Redman, Dallas Fisher and Keith Ward to start the Breakers franchise. They employed Green as coach but his reign was a short one, parting company with the club after an early losing streak that coincided with him running foul of the officials in an away game against Cairns.

"If I had a regret about the Breakers - I shouldn't have coached," Green admitted.

"The deal was never to coach initially - as an ANBL coach I was a rookie, I had Pero [Cameron], my best player, for just one game in the time that I did have.

"In hindsight, it might have been better to just stick with setting the team up."

But he's remained a fervent supporter of the club since.

"Dallas and me and the boys still go to every game, we're season ticket holders, we support them 110 per cent.

"They [the Breakers] acknowledge my contribution to the franchise. If I didn't drive it, Michael and Dallas wouldn't have considered it."

Green says he's proud what the club has achieved following the initial struggles.

"What they've done is fantastic. I keep being asked - 'would you have ever dreamed of the Breakers playing in a stadium like Vector Arena?'

"And I do look around when I'm there and think, 'man, I was a part of starting this, to build this'.

"Very few people get to finish what they start, especially in sporting franchises.

"It's always the second or third coach that gets the glory, the owners that take over from the people who built it - but that's life, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Breakers organisation.

"I think they're one of the premier sporting organisations. They're absolutely great in what they do and if there's some small part that I played in that, then I'm a happy camper."

Green wasn't surprised the three-times defending champs have struggled this year, after the departures of coach Andrej Lemanis, star import Cedric Jackson and veteran forward Dillon Boucher.

"They're big holes to fill.

"Dean [new head coach Dean Vickerman] will find his feet. I just think he might need more experience in his assistant coaches.

"Paulie [Paul Henare] and Judd [Flavell] are going to be good coaches in their careers - Paulie's already won an NZ NBL title. But when it comes to the ANBL, you need people who have been around the traps."

So is he a better coach now?

"Absolutely. They key is you've got to keep learning.

"Even at my age and my experience you still pick up things from people."

But don't you miss the high-profile times?

"Not really," he said before adding: "My ego ... as you know, I have a huge ego.

"I'd love to coach in the NBL for the right team. I don't want to be a development coach for a team that's just making up the numbers.

"I want to win two more titles. I was talking to Tab Baldwin, and he said I should get back into the NBL. I told him the only reason I'd do that was that he had five championships, I had four, and I wanted to get two more.

"That's the only motivation. I wouldn't do it for the money.

"I don't want to leave Hamilton for a second-tier situation, and my ego couldn't handle a development job in the NBL. Development is all about what I do at Fraser and the rep teams."

Green said he'd been toying with the idea of setting up a team in the NBL out of Rotorua "but that fell through".

"The other thing I'm toying with is a women's team in the NBL, or a [men's] team in the SEABL [the South East Australian Basketball League].

"It's such a tough competition, and it's a true national league. I've had some discussions with Basketball Australia about getting a team into that.

"I've also been in the final two for three SEABL [coaching] jobs. I don't know if I want to go and live in Australia, but it's good for the ego."

When the dictaphone turns off as the interview appears complete, Green also throws out the nugget that he still has a hankering to coach the national side, believing that the reign of current coach Nenad Vucinic is nearing an end.

But if that longshot doesn't come to fruition, it doesn't appear Green will lose sleep.

"The spotlight has its moments, but I don't miss the limelight.

"People still ask me for my opinion, and I'll always have that," he grinned.


Waikato Times