Feb. 21, 2000
by Ken Kleppel
Not every Cinderella wants a prince charming. Then again, not every Cinderella wears adidas sneakers and ranks as one of the most versatile, in-your-face guards in the nation. Fifth-year senior guard Danielle Green vividly illustrates a scene all too easy to imagine.
"Nothing is better than transition basketball, running the break. Getting a rebound, throwing an outlet, beating the other eight girls down court, having Niele (Ivey) pass it to me and making a lay-up and doing it on consecutive plays is a great feeling. I just feel like no one in the world can run with me and compete with me."
Green's Cinderella story begins at seven years of age, when she first began her own personal fast break towards the Lady on the Dome.
"When I was younger, I was really interested in men's basketball. I remember watching a game and noticing a halftime institutional spot featuring Notre Dame," narrates a still-captivated Green. "From that moment on, I remember telling my mom that I was going to go to school here. She thought I would change my mind but every year I made it a point to tell her my dream. Finally she started to believe me when I was 12 or 13. I just made it a goal early on, and said I would continue to make good grades, play basketball, and get a scholarship. I don't even think I knew about women's basketball at the time. It was just something about Notre Dame."
After a decade-long wait, Green finally put on an Irish uniform in the fall of 1995. Averaging 8.7 minutes over 27 games her freshman season, Green had a promising start which featured appearances in two NCAA tournament contests. Yet, an Achilles' tendon tear on the first day of practice of the 1996-97 season sidelined Green for the duration of the Final Four campaign.
"It was a turning point in my basketball career because I had a chance to sit back and reflect on a lot of things and learn about the game of basketball," the southpaw explains. "To an extent I think I learned a lot about myself. I think it was one of the best things that really happened to me in my life. Just like that it was taken away."
Playing alongside teammates Beth Morgan and Katryna Gaither, the top two leading scorers in Notre Dame history, helped stir a competitive spirit before the injury. But watching the talented duo throughout 1997 helped inspire a comeback.
"As a freshman I was a little stubborn and wanted to be out there playing ball. I think I was a little jealous of Beth, Katyrna and the rest because I wanted to be where they were and I just wasn't patient enough," says Green. "When I tore my Achilles tendon, I had a chance to reflect on a lot of things and see how hard they really worked. I just made it a point, when I got back on the court, to try and mirror the way they worked in games and practices."
In many areas, her performance has eclipsed those of her predecessors. Becoming only the 15th member of the exclusive 1,000-point club in a win over Pittsburgh on February 5, Green has started more than 40 games for the Irish over the past two seasons including her first 14 the initial season following the injury.
The third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on the 1999 squad, Green averaged over 14 points and seven rebounds per game, while starting each contest of her breakthrough season.
"My best collegiate game was actually half of a game, against Duke, in the second half," describes Green. "I got into foul trouble in the first half and I was on the bench. I thought I was disappointing my teammates and coaches and knew I had to just ball-out. The second half I scored 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, finishing with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Just because they were ranked so high and people weren't expecting us to beat them, to have a great performance against a great team was awesome."
Surpassing expectations is certainly Green's trademark. Growing up in an urban Chicago neighborhood, Green was able to overcome the proverbial odds facing many of her peers and became the first athlete in Roosevelt High School history to earn a Division I scholarship.
"I remember I was on the verge of going to the University of Illinois because I didn't think I was smart enough to come here," Green explains. "But I am just so blessed that Coach McGraw gave me the opportunity. I told her I would work hard in the classroom and hopefully that will transfer over to the court. Coming from Chicago, people do not expect city kids to accomplish much."
Named a BIG EAST Academic All-Star in 1996 and again in 1999, Green recently graduated from the College of Arts & Letters with a degree in psychology.
"To make it on those academic teams is just so special to me because coming from Chicago, people weren't expecting me to do a lot. Graduating last May was probably one of my biggest accomplishments because of the people who doubted me back then five years ago. I am proud to say I did this on my own through hard-work and perseverance."
"She is more than a veteran player," describes teammate Niele Ivey. "She's been through a lot of things and played with so many great players. Everyone looks up to her."
Green has played in seven NCAA tournament and nine BIG EAST Tournament contests. She perhaps best understands the style of play needed to succeed in the postseason.
"I think the regular season prepares you for the big-time games," Green comments. "I think it's two different seasons. The key to tournament time is to play fundamentally sound basketball. Everybody talks about working hard, but I think it is also working smart and just utilizing the coaches' game plan and strategy."
Improving each season quickly became Green's primary focus.
"When I first came to Notre Dame I just had one aspect of my game and that was as a defensive stopper," reveals Green. "When I came back from the injury I was able to display some of my offensive skills, but I was still known as a defensive stopper. But this year, this past summer, I worked on my overall game including my fundamentals. I worked on my passing and dribbling because if anything happened to Niele I could step into that role. I am also shooting the ball better, I have extended my range a little bit."
Coach McGraw acknowledges the progress.
"One of the biggest areas of improvement this year is her willingness to take the ball down court and starting the attack to score," describes McGraw. "She has taken an aggressive role in helping Niele drive the team and complements her well. Her shot selection is much better."
"I think I am definitely a whole lot more mature than before," explains Green. "I wanted so much back as a freshman, but I just was not ready. I did not really know what the college game was all about. Sitting through the injury and then coming back and just being patient and really working allowed me to learn about myself. I used each summer to work on my game and I think I finally started listening to the coaches. The coaches have good things to say and if you listen to them and follow their instruction you become a better player."
Averaging over 11 points per game and totaling over 61 assists and 83 rebounds in 22 games played, Green is playing the most balanced basketball of her career.
"I want to be a major defensive presence out there. I want the other opponents to fear me and say 'this is Danielle Green and I have to be focused tonight because if not, she is going to beat me'. I want to pass and get the ball to our big people, who are playing real well right now and want the ball. I want to feel confident in my passing ability to get them the ball where they want it."
This year has turned out to be my best season ever. I think I have become more of a team player too. I wasn't really selfish in the past, but I can really see the difference between this year and last year. I am just letting things happen."
Cinderella found her slipper, and it fit perfectly from the beginning. One last dance awaits.