By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s hard to find a more confident player than Quade Green. Call it Philadelphia swagger. Call it Philadelphia toughness. Call it whatever you want.
Green believes in himself and makes others believe in him as well. It’s a knack he always has had and it helped bring other players to Kentucky this year to play with him.
“I know that some guys wanted to play with me. I just had to adjust my approach. Like my speed and getting them the ball at the right time. I was just lacking at times doing that right,” said the UK freshman guard. “Knowing you can’t provide something these guys want gets to you but you have to find a way to make these guys better because then they will make you better at the end of the day.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari helped Green figure that out when he explained that freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the one player who was working out on his own early each morning, had become Kentucky’s best player. Green – and others – got the message.
“Everybody has been waking up in the morning and shooting and lifting (weights),” Green said. “We’ve been coming in at night and shooting. You get the proper sleep and do what you are supposed to do and then all the little stuff is going to add up and that’s what has been happening.”
Kentucky hopes that will keep happening Thursday when it plays Davidson, a 12 seed, in the NCAA Tournament South Region in Boise, Idaho. A win would send the fifth-seeded Wildcats against either No. 4 seed Arizona, a preseason top five team, or No. 13 seed Buffalo on Saturday.
Green was not a big scorer in UK’s SEC Tournament win. He went 0-for-5 from the field against Georgia, 1-for-4 against Alabama and 3-for-5 against Tennessee. However, he had a career-high eight assists against Alabama. He had just one turnover in 85 minutes in the three games.
He knows a late-season players only meeting was “beneficial” to him and teammates.
“Everybody needed to clear the air and get stuff off your chest,” Green said. “We are trusting each other again like back in the day. We are trusting everyone. The all-star games we played together, we all trusted each other. Once everybody trusts and touches the ball, everybody is happy. If you are not scoring, you are rebounding and in the flow of the game, so you have to be happy.”
He’s even become at least an average defender, or maybe even better than that. Most of the season if he did not hit shots, he was a defensive liability and could not stay in games. That wasn’t the case in the SEC tourney where not making shots did not earn him a spot on the bench.
“He’s far ahead defensively of where he was. He still has some defensive lapses but he has become a pretty good defender right before our eyes,” Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne said. “We make him watch film of Tyler Ulis to see how tough he was on and off the ball. He has embraced it. He is not quite there yet, but he is headed in the right direction.”
Green knows he can’t let his offense impact his defense.
“When I am missing shots, I have to lose myself in the team. If I am not hitting shots, somebody else will,” he said. “I have to rebound and play defense.”
Green believes as players have learned their roles, they all have become better overall players.
“I think nobody really knows coming into what to do. We knew what people’s game was but we really didn’t know how it would be together. We have put our team together now,” Green, who averages 9.6 points and 1.5 assists per game, said. “We get along great off the court. It’s just on the court we needed time.
“If somebody messes up, we are not on him but there to cheer him up. We are not dwelling on one bad play or one mistake. Cal might scream at you, but you have to just go play. We all get that now.”
Green missed three games in January with a back injury that he now admits bothered him more than he wanted to say at the time.
“It set me back a little bit more than I wanted to say, but I am back healthy now. I can give my full energy. That’s what I’ve been doing and certainly am going to do in the NCAA. You don’t get any more second chances now,” Green, who has made two 3-pointers in seven of the last 11 games, said.
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