CEDAR FALLS — A.J. Green has enjoyed the perks of sharing a household with a member of Northern Iowa’s coaching staff.
Tagging along on NCAA Tournament road trips with his father, UNI assistant Kyle Green, A.J. witnessed Ali Farokhmanesh’s heroics against UNLV and Kansas. He was once again inside the arena when Paul Jesperson’s half-court prayer was answered off the glass for a game-winner against Texas.
“It was cool being able to see that, and then now realizing that could be me in a couple years,” Green said Saturday afternoon after verbally committing to join the UNI program that help mold him into one of Iowa’s most sought after 2018 recruits. “It’s been great always being around the players and having a good relationship with all the players and all the coaches throughout my whole life. Always being up at UNI, in the gym has been pretty cool.”
Clutch shooting in big games isn’t just something Green has witnessed. As a high school sophomore, he swished a 17-foot jumper to send Cedar Falls to state with a buzzer-beating overtime win against current Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon’s Linn-Mar team.
“That was absolutely huge for our team and our program,” Cedar Falls head coach Ryan Schultz said. “For someone that age to step up on that stage and to do that at a big moment was huge for him, too. It think it boosted his confidence. He was phenomenal at the state tournament.”
Green’s scoring average jumped from 17.8 to 21.5 points a game as a junior, showcasing seemingly limitless range with 43.4 percent accuracy on 3-pointers. Multiple national recruiting outlets ranked him inside their top 100, including a mark of 85 on ESPN’s 2018 list. Offers from coast-to-coast followed.
Green says Virginia, Gonzaga and Clemson were the schools he’d been talking with prior to the decision to attend his hometown college. In addition to playing for his dad, Green is looking forward to having his mom, Michele, and younger sister, Emerson, be able to watch him compete inside the McLeod Center.
“It just felt right for me to go there,” he said. “My family will be able to come to every game.”
Kyle Green, who also works as UNI’s recruiting coordinator, was naturally the first to find out his son’s intentions.
“He was excited,” A.J. related. “He told me to call Coach Jake (UNI head coach Ben Jacobson) and make it official.
“It was really cool just having both of us, me and him, going through this whole process and then just finally letting him know that I wanted to go to UNI, it was pretty neat.”
Citing relationships with coaches, program prestige and location as other factors in his decision, Green certainly will enter college comfortable with his teammates. He’s looking forward to once again competing alongside Waverly native Austin Phyfe — an all-state center entering his freshman season with the Panthers.
“I’ve known him (Phyfe) since fifth grade,” Green said. “I’ve played traveling ball with him and we’ve always had a good relationship through our whole high school careers. It will be pretty cool to come back and play with him again.”
Green also credits time traveling the country with the Iowa Barnstormers club program as an experience that exposed him to top competition while providing an opportunity to prove himself. The point guard feels he’s entering his final year of high school a more poised and confident teammate.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better at being a leader, being more vocal on the court — just letting my teammates know what they’re doing great, if they could do anything better,” Green said.
Schultz is quick to point out, Green’s success goes beyond his physical attributes.
“He’s just got all the intangible things you look for in a player, but it’s very rare to find,” the Cedar Falls coach said. “Not only the skill with the drive and passion for the game, he’s the quintessential kid that’s the first one there, he’s the last guy to leave. He does everything at game speed.”
This major decision now out of the way, Green’s focus has shifted toward school and trying to win a state title with his Cedar Falls prep teammates. His drive for growth hasn’t faded.
“I definitely wanted to get it done before school started,” Green said. “I’ll be able to focus on school and my last year and focus on basketball and getting better and not really having to worry about the whole recruiting thing.”
Certainly, support will never be far away.
“It’s exciting to see a kid fulfill his dream, and to have the choices that he had available to him, and to see all that work pay off,” Schultz said. “Then, obviously, it’s pretty exciting to see him stay with the hometown team and it’ll be fun to watch him over the next few years.”