CEDAR FALLS — Kyle and Michele Green were used to the routine.
Packing for their eighth move in little more than a decade, the couple kept uncovering basketballs from all corners of their home.
The Greens were preparing to leave suburban Chicago in 2006 for a second stint in Cedar Falls. Kyle had accepted a job on first-year head coach Ben Jacobson’s Northern Iowa staff after the pair had worked alongside each other at the school from 2001-03 under Greg McDermott. His son, AJ, was in second grade and daughter, Emerson, was starting elementary school.
“We had 62 basketballs in the house,” Kyle recalls. “From little, tiny balls to regulation balls. They’ve always had a ball in their hands.”
Good things are happening nowadays at Cedar Falls High School when AJ and Emerson Green have control of the basketball. The siblings are each connecting on over 40 percent of their 3-pointers, while also showing comfort breaking down defenders and taking possessions away from opponents.
AJ, a consensus top-100 national prospect, signed in early November to continue his basketball career at Northern Iowa where Kyle is in the midst of a 13th season on staff. He’s a determined senior leader relentlessly working to guide the Tigers back to the state tournament — two years removed from a sophomore season highlighted by his state-qualifying, game-winning shot over Linn-Mar.
Emerson is enjoying a breakout sophomore season within Class 5A’s No. 2-ranked Cedar Falls girls’ team. She’s progressed from a freshman role player during last year’s run to the state finals and averages 16 points a game to lead a balanced starting five that includes three seniors signed to attend UNI.
“It’s a lot more stressful watching your own kids play,” laughed Kyle, who also serves as UNI’s recruiting coordinator. “You hope that when you’re involved in basketball, and it’s a big part of your life, that your kids will have that same kind of feeling.
“To watch them improve and get better and have fun with their teammates, it’s been a really cool experience for my wife and I.”
Kyle and Michele first met at NCAA Division III Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., where they each competed on the basketball teams. While the sport has been a shared interest for the couple — with Kyle serving as a collegiate assistant or head coach for eight programs since 1993 — early on they decided they weren’t going push their children into the gym.
“It’s certainly something that’s important to us, they’ve been exposed to it, but if it wasn’t something they were excited about or interested in, we wanted to make sure we didn’t force it upon them,” Kyle said. “To have them come to it naturally has been a blessing.”
With Kyle often traveling with his teams or on the recruiting trail, Michele was AJ and Emerson’s first rec league coach — a role she maintained with her daughter’s teams through eighth grade.
“She’s without a doubt the most competitive person in our family,” Kyle said, addressing his wife’s influence.
This active family has embraced their time together in the gym.
“When I was younger we’d always be in the gym shooting together — my mom, dad, sister and I,” AJ recalls. “We’d have shooting contests or my dad would work my sister and I out.”
AJ credits his mom as a role model who helped teach the value of hard work and trusting the skills he’s developed. His dad’s profession certainly provided a unique perspective on the collegiate game.
The Green children were allowed to stop by practices. They traveled to early-season tournaments and soaked in some memorable moments from UNI’s NCAA runs. Sometimes players would even stop by the house to play video games.
“They were all cool, because that’s what I wanted to be when I was older,” AJ said. “I wanted to play in college.
“I really noticed all the work that went in behind the scenes, whether it was guys getting shots up before games or after practice, or my dad always watching film. It’s a lot more work than what it seems like. I knew I’d have to work really hard to get where I wanted to be.”
As the Green children grew older, the family’s summer vacations often doubled as trips to club basketball games or basketball camps. Emerson competes in the Iowa Prep club program based out of Cedar Rapids and AJ has been a member of the Barnstormers organization.
Iowa signee Joe Wieskamp of Muscatine, also a top 100 national recruit, has been one of AJ’s longtime teammates. They’ve helped keep Iowa’s tradition of strong prep basketball on the national radar, even finishing with a couple wins in their final tournament in Las Vegas last summer.
“I’ve known Joe since sixth grade,” AJ said. “It was really fun to play with him. We played really well off each other — just being able to push each other whether it was in practice or in the games really helped me get better.”
Emerson, who also competed on Cedar Falls’ state championship volleyball team, has been motivated by her brother’s success.
“Always seeing him in the gym makes me want to get better as a player,” she said. “I’ve always kind of looked up to him with him being my older brother.
“He told me to come in (to high school basketball) playing like I always have and not to be afraid. Just do what I can do.”
Emerson’s poise is among the traits that separates her from most her age.
“She just has this composure about her that you don’t see very often out of young kids,” Cedar Falls girls coach Gregg Groen said. “She doesn’t seem to get rattled very easy.”
AJ says he’s enjoyed watching his sister gain confidence and take on more of a scoring and leadership role in her second season of varsity competition.
“I think she doesn’t really realize yet how good she could be,” he added.
Within his team, AJ has found his voice as a second-year captain.
“The biggest thing I’ve been proud of is his vocal leadership,” Cedar Falls boys coach Ryan Schultz said, after praising AJ’s dedication in the weight room and gym.
Added AJ, “I’ve definitely been trying to get better at being a leader and being vocal out there. Also, I’ve just been trying to get my teammates going and pick times when I can do my thing out there. I think if we can all come together, and I can do what I’ve been working on, we should be able to be pretty good.”
During the final season of AJ and Emerson competing in different locations during Mississippi Valley Conference games, Kyle and Michele make sure to enter gymnasiums with their cell phones charged.
“Game days can be tough,” Kyle said. “We split up and there’s a lot of text messages that go back and forth. Then there’s questions that follow up with every text message so we spend half the game keeping each other updated.”
No matter how the games turn out, this family is there for each other.
“Me and AJ jokingly compare points and make it a little bit of a competition,” Emerson said. “Sometimes we’ll watch tape of our games together as a family. I think it’s definitely brought us closer.”
Added AJ, “It’s meant everything to have my sister and parents always supporting me and giving me advice, trying to help me become the best player and person I can. Their support has been amazing.”