Commentary

Green gives Spartans boost off bench

Originally Published: April 1, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Message board critics, beware. If you type something critical online about Michigan State or power forward Draymond Green, be prepared for some blowback.

Draymond Green
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesDraymond Green, the Big Ten's sixth man of the year, has embraced his role coming off the bench for the Spartans.

Mama is reading, and ready to respond.

"It's soooo tempting," Mary Babers said with a laugh. "I want to get on there all the time."

Her son has counseled her to stop. She has agreed to stop.

She can't stop.

"I read some things and I have to show some restraint," Babers said. "Sometimes I can't help it."

She is a one-woman news filter. She has Google alerts set up for the Spartans and for her boy -- nicknamed "DayDay" since his youth. She reads everything.

And she is just a little bit opinionated.

"She's willing to go to bat for her kids," Draymond said. "Sometimes I have to calm her down."

The woman who works for Saginaw (Mich.) Public Schools also can be an enthusiastic armchair motivator and assistant coach. When Babers isn't jousting online, she's passing along motivational tips to her son and mentoring Draymond via phone calls and text messages.

"Your elbow, make sure you keep it tight on your free throws."

"You're coming off screens too slow."

"Use your strength when you're backing someone down in the post."

The funny thing about the home coaching is this: Green is the smartest player in this Final Four -- maybe the smartest player in all of college basketball. If you want a Spartans frame of reference, his feel for the game is Magic Lite. (OK, Magic Ultra Lite. But still.)

That's why Michigan State coach Tom Izzo trusts his 6-foot-6, 235-pound sophomore power forward to also be his backup point guard now that starting point Kalin Lucas is out with an injury. Korie Lucious is the new starter at that position, but Green has a package of five plays with him running the show.

There aren't many power forwards who moonlight as point guards, but there also aren't many power forwards who lead the team in assist-to-turnover ratio 1.82 to 1. Green has 111 assists, and those same hands have perpetrated a team-high 44 steals.

Green threw two passes at the Midwest Regional in St. Louis that showcased his basketball IQ. Against Northern Iowa, he jumped up and caught an inbounds pass with one hand -- and, before coming back down, whipped it to the wing to Lucious for an open 3-pointer. (Only problem was, Lucious was standing on the sideline. Turnover.) Against Tennessee, Green fired the one-handed pass inside to Raymar Morgan that drew the foul that allowed Morgan to win the game on a free throw with 1.8 seconds left.

"I'm always looking at what's the next move, what's the next open pass," Green said.

"He's playing with the same confidence he did as an 8-year-old," Babers said.

Some of Green's feel is probably instinctual -- but a whole lot of it has been learned from a steady succession of coaches. As a toddler, he was hanging around at Michigan State -- and being scared by the Sparty mascot -- when his aunt, prep star Annette Babers, played there. His uncle and father coached him in youth leagues, pounding home the importance of fundamentals over flash. His coach at traditional power Saginaw High School, Lou Dawkins, played for Tubby Smith in college and earns high marks from Izzo as a teacher.

And, of course, there is Mom, offering endless feedback.

"Every single day, I get a text from her about basketball," Green said. "She's my biggest critic, but also my biggest fan."

[+] EnlargeDraymond Green
Scott Rovak/US PresswireGreen scored 13 points and found Raymar Morgan underneath the basket for the go-ahead free throw in Michigan State's Elite Eight win over Tennessee.
Draymond listens to all of it. And acts on some of it.

"Sometimes she thinks she knows more than she really does," he said with a smile. "… Not the average mother knows what she knows, but I don't think any mother knows everything about playing college basketball in terms of X's and O's."

Mary Babers was a basketball player in her youth, and apparently a pretty good one. But by her own admission, she "didn't have the attitude for team sports."

Pretty feisty?

"Pretty feisty, yeah," she said.

One day in practice, she said, her coach got mad at her and threw the ball at her. She responded by throwing it back at him -- and hitting him. That was the end of her basketball career.

Draymond can be similarly emotional, which has led to a few (dozen) animated in-game conversations with his coach. As Izzo said in St. Louis, "I always have to have one guy I can argue with on every team, and that's DayDay."

That's one of the many beauties of Izzo. As an emotive Italian, he can handle a little back talk without losing his mind.

But it took a while last season for Green's mom to be convinced that these spats weren't deleterious to his playing time. The conversation after she witnessed her first Izzo-Draymond argument:

Her: "What are you doing? You can't be yelling at the coach."

Him: "Mom, I got this."

Her: "No -- no, you don't."

Him: "Mom, Coach Izzo loves this."

"Then I watched some more," Babers said. "And I saw he's right."

Izzo and Green had an exchange on the bench in the Tennessee-Michigan State regional final after Izzo took out Green for sloppy play.

Green asked, "Am I not allowed to make a mistake?"

Izzo's response: "Not at this time of year."

Really, this time of year has been the best time of year for Green. He had 10 rebounds in the regional final upset of Louisville last year, then followed that with eight points in just 12 minutes last year in a Final Four upset of Connecticut. He scored 13 against Tennessee in this year's regional final. He has dished the ball out for 14 assists and blocked seven shots this tourney, with just six turnovers.

This is winning time, and Green tends to play like a winner in March.

"I'm not a loser, never have been a loser," he said. "Losing doesn't sit well with me."

It was after last year's blowout loss in the national title game to North Carolina that Green -- just a freshman -- stood up and addressed his teammates. His message: In 2008, the Tar Heels were whipped in the Final Four by Kansas, but they came back a year later to win it all. Why can't Michigan State use the loss to Carolina as similar motivational fuel for a run in 2010?

"We're back to that stage again," Green said. "And we know we can do what it takes to advance again."

Mary Babers would approve of that message. And she will be reading.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.