October 8, 2005
WALTHAM Orien Greene spent the summer watching his teammates practice. Not exactly what he planned to do during his first few months in the NBA, but it was a necessary break as Greene recovered from surgery to repair a broken right foot.
He played through the pain during his final year at Louisiana-Lafayette, knowing a strong season would improve his chances of playing professionally. He put the injury out of his mind during predraft workouts. He had no real choice, and no time to take a break. But once the Celtics drafted Greene in the second round (No. 53 overall), it was time to think about what was best for the future. While the other rookies went to the Las Vegas Summer League, Greene had surgery and set his sights on the preseason.
The operation and the rehabilitation went well for Greene. Now, the same can be said for training camp. Allowed to start walking through drills in late September and fully cleared medically a week ago, Greene has proven a quick learner. He also has impressed coach Doc Rivers with his conditioning, considering the point guard spent most of the offseason on the trainer's table. But where others see quick progress, Greene claims to be taking a slow-but-steady approach, looking for the simple, most effective pass and letting the game come to him.
"It really hasn't been difficult," said Greene. "Just watching, you can grasp a lot of stuff. But at the same time, it's not the same as when you're going through it actually. Once you see what the guy in front of you is doing, you basically do the same thing that he's doing and you learn from that. It's pretty self-explanatory. I'm feeling pretty comfortable out there. I try not to do too much and not to do too little."
Not exactly the approach you would expect from someone competing against four players for time at point guard while taking some repetitions at shooting guard. Greene knows from experience not to force a fit with a team. College and the draft taught him that life has a way of working out for the best when you least expect it. Hoping for a role, Greene has trust in his ability. He believes that somewhere between not doing too much and not doing too little, the Celtics will see something they want and need.
Born and raised in Gainesville, Fla., Greene appeared destined for a storybook career at the University of Florida amid the support of friends and family. But dissatisfaction about his role with the Gators amid the distractions of playing in his hometown led Greene to transfer to Louisiana-Lafayette. After sitting out a year per NCAA rules, Greene resumed his college career with the Ragin' Cajuns and emerged a defensive terror as a 6-foot-4-inch point guard. He was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, leading the conference with 68 steals. He also averaged 11.4 points and 4 assists per game. And don't forget that Greene accomplished all that while playing with a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot.
"I know I can play with these guys," said Greene. "I just want to come out there and show what I can do. Being a second-rounder really didn't mean much because I felt like I should have been in the first round. But the cards didn't fall that way, being that I was coming from a small school.
"I was kind of off the radar after leaving Florida, but it's probably been one of the best decisions of my life. I just grew up a lot in Louisiana. It made me look at things in a whole different perspective by getting out of my hometown. Everything happens for a reason and you can't take stuff for granted. Being at Florida and then going to Louisiana-Lafayette is like two different ends of the spectrum. It was just a big wake-up call to me."
With five years of college, Greene is, in many ways, one of the more experienced younger players with the Celtics. Rivers likes the mental maturity and defense that he sees in Greene's game.
"I like him a lot," said Rivers. "He's a smart player. He's a great defensive player. He's an NBA defensive guard at the point or [shooting guard] right now. He has nice size. He's tough as nails. He rebounds like Delonte [West]. They both shouldn't be rebounding, but they always come up with the loose balls. He has to improve his shot. The question for him, though, is once [exhibition season] starts how good is he at the point. Can he [play point]? If he can, then we've got a great point."
Rivers admits he knew nothing about Greene before he came to a predraft workout where Greene competed against Georgia Tech and Worcester Academy product Jarrett Jack and Arizona standout Salim Stoudamire. By midway through the workout, Rivers was asking who Greene was. Greene was repeatedly blocking the shots of Jack and Stoudamire. When Rivers learned Greene played point guard in college, he became excited about the prospect.
As training camp continues, Orien Greene likely will become an even more familiar name in these parts, a point guard who proves he was worth waiting for in the draft and through the recovery from foot surgery.
"I know there's a lot of competition," said Rivers. "But at the same time, when your time comes, that's when you've got to do your thing. Then, don't push it, don't rush it."
Al Jefferson was limping without crutches or any type of immobilizing boot yesterday, showing his sprained left ankle is healing quickly. The 20-year-old believes he can return in less than the two weeks predicted. "It feels good," said Jefferson. "Last year, they had me out for six weeks and I made it back in a little more than two. So, I heal real quick. I'll be ready probably when they get back from Pittsburgh [Oct. 12]." . . . Despite only one practice on Thursday, Rivers thought the players fought through fatigue during yesterday's morning session. They went only an hour last night, primarily walking through offense.