Danny Green’s winning pedigree a valuable asset for the Raptors

Kawhi Leonard isn’t the only former Spur that will be making an impact on the Raptors, with Danny Green ready to give the young team guidance on and off the court.

TORONTO – When thinking about Toronto Raptors shooting guard Danny Green, what are some of the first things that come to mind?

As a former NBA All-Defensive team selection, “stopper” is an appropriate one.

Or, as former San Antonio Spurs teammate Cory Joseph described him the 39.5 per cent shooter from three-point range, how about a guy who can “shoot the hell out of the ball”?

Perhaps, as this summer proved to be for him, “Kawhi whisperer” could be appropriate, too.

But his most enduring characteristic might be the fact he’s a winner.

It may be a sports cliché, but when you look back at the 31-year-old’s career just as he’s entering his 10th NBA season, you can see definitive proof: An NCAA national title and an NBA ring, making him just the third University of North Carolina player in history to have captured both, joining the likes of some guys named James Worthy and Michael Jordan.

However, he didn’t become a winner overnight — in fact there was a good chance things would’ve ended up a lot differently than they did now.

Playing the last three years of his high school ball out of St. Mary’s High School on Long Island in New York City, Green became a McDonald’s All-American player in his senior year before he would go on a four-year journey at North Carolina that would prove to shape him greatly.

During his freshman year, Green was the Tar Heels’ sixth man and averaged 7.5 points on 35.5 per cent shooting from three-point range in 15.3 minutes per game. Not a spectacular first season, but certainly not terrible.

Then, in his sophomore year, disaster struck when Green’s father, Danny Green Sr., was arrested and then incarcerated for 22 months on charges he was a participant in a multimillion-dollar cocaine distribution network that the family maintains he was innocent of.

As a result, Green, who had been coached by his father up to the ninth grade, saw his play suffer greatly in his second season at UNC as his father’s situation clearly weighed on his mind.

“My sophomore year was probably my toughest time. I wasn’t playing,” Green told the New York Daily News before the 2013 NBA Finals. “I went from sixth man my freshman year to not playing much at all my sophomore year. I was thinking about transferring. It was a very tough time. A lot of things off the court were going on. It wasn’t easy.”

Green persevered and fought through his adversity to turn everything around in his junior and senior seasons.

Regaining his sixth-man role during the 2007-08 campaign, he averaged 11.5 points per game on a restored and improved 37.3 per cent clip from deep in 22.3 minutes per game and a Final Four performance.

Then, during his senior season, playing for a UNC squad that many consider among the best in program’s illustrious history, Green soared to whole new heights in a starting role to averages of 13.1 points, 41.8 per cent shooting from three-point range and 27.4 minutes while also being named one of the team captains, a Third-Team All-ACC selection an ACC All-Defensive Team selection and, most importantly, a 2009 NCAA National Championship.

“To win it in your last day of college your senior year,” Green told Sportsnet of that 2009 title’s meaning, “especially because coming from the year before — losing the Final Four — and coming back to win with the whole team back together, it was a very special moment for me that I’ll never forget.”

Joining Green on this tumultuous journey for all four years was former Raptor Tyler Hansbrough.

Roommates during their freshman year and housemates during Green’s breakout junior campaign, Hansbrough isn’t surprised that his teammate was able to fight through the adversity he faced because of the one trait he defines Green by.

“There’s a lot of things I could say, but I would say Danny really competes,” says Hansbrough.

Another classic sports cliché, sure, but one that describes not only Green’s collegiate career, but his pro one so far as well.

Taken 46th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009, a second-round pick, nothing came easy for Green at the outset of his professional journey.

In his rookie season, Green played 20 games for the Cavs before he was waived. During the 2010-11 season, the Spurs picked him up, but then opted to waive him after just six days. Later that same season, however, the Spurs decided to take a flyer on him again for the end of the season, but he still couldn’t stick.

Then, in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, something finally clicked. Green signed with Slovenian professional team KK Union Olimpija, with an NBA-out clause that would allow him to return to the league when the lockout ended. The results spoke for themselves.

It took a little while but in 66 games and 38 starts, Green broke out to a 9.1 per game scoring average, a career-high 43.6 per cent three-point shooting percentage and, most importantly, earned trust of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

“It’s always been defence with him,” Green told Sportsnet of Popovich after a practice last week. “It doesn’t matter that I was just able to shoot threes. He wasn’t trying to make a 3-and-D guy. He’ll make you a defensive guy, a basketball player.”

A real player Green became.

His resume since then proves that lockout year wasn’t just a fluke. He remained the starting shooting guard for a Spurs team that over the next six seasons would average about 58 wins per season, make two Finals appearances and win it all once.

Green says he owes a lot of the success he’s found has been thanks to the recently retired Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, as well as long-time Spur – now Charlotte Hornet — Tony Parker.

“They led in many different ways,” Green says of that great Spurs trio. “Sometimes by accident, sometimes by words. But they were passionate guys that gave their all every night on the court, every day in practice. They made sure they took care of business. So just being in that atmosphere, in following them and learning from them naturally my habits developed in doing what they did.”

Now a member of the Raptors because of the stunning July trade that also saw the team acquire Kawhi Leonard, Green wants to apply some of those same lessons he learned while with the Spurs to his new club.

“They’re both top organizations,” Green said of the differences between the Raptors and Spurs. “We have some younger guys, they had older guys who were established and won some championships and we’re still trying to figure that out here.

“We’re trying to bring that culture here, me and Kawhi, but they’re two top organizations that understand how to do it the right way and win games and get things done.”

The Raptors at the moment are a lot like Green once was: Talented but unable to make it over that hump and really break through. Similarly, it hasn’t been an easy road for Green, but he fought through it all and became a winner.

With him on the team, the Raptors just might become winners, themselves, too.

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