Greene has calming effect at UConn
Fifth-year senior's leadership puts Huskies at ease, Auriemma at peace
SAN ANTONIO -- Kalana Greene might not have been named an All-American this season, but in her fifth season playing for Geno Auriemma, she is all Connecticut.
The South Carolina native has even spent enough time around the basketball patrician of the Nutmeg State to learn how to deal with the constant flow of quips, barbs, admonitions and blistering criticisms constantly leveled at any and all Huskies.
"The first couple of years I've been here, if that happened, I would kind of fold or retreat," Greene said. "But now, it's like he says it and I'm like, 'Screw you. I'm going to get it done one way or another.'
"And he likes that; that's what he tries to bring out of you. He doesn't want you to retreat at all. It's always, 'You come up with your chest out and if you think you can do something, do it. I'm just trying to get it out of you.' And I respect that from him."
Don't mistake Greene's bluntness for brashness. This isn't a case of an egotistical player thinking she knows better than her coach and casting aside his message. She has listened to the coaching for five seasons, a span of time in which she has started 123 times, during which the Huskies have posted a 119-4 record. She has listened well enough to his criticisms to come back from a torn ACL in her right knee two years ago and become a WNBA first-round prospect. She has listened long enough to know she had to speak up this season on a team with plenty of talent returning to replace Renee Montgomery on the court but few clear candidates to step in and replace Montgomery's unmistakable personality.
And if Greene is going to speak, she seems to feel she might as well offer the unfiltered truth.
"Kalana is quiet, and for her previous four years, Renee's personality took over everything and Kalana could just be a good teammate," associate coach Chris Dailey said. "And this year we needed more from her and she has evolved into the personality of our team.
"She's more vocal, she's more demanding of herself, she's more demanding of her teammates. She's concerned about all her teammates, knowing where they are and what they're doing. So she's really become more of a voice now than at the beginning of the year."
Greene can say quite a bit with nothing louder than a raised eyebrow, her face all the more expressive contrasted against casual, conserved body language. And as long as Montgomery was around to marshal the troops on the court and instigate amusement away from it, she didn't need much more than a well-placed expression here or there.
The first couple of years I've been here, if that happened, I would kind of fold or retreat. But now, it's like he says it and I'm like, 'Screw you. I'm going to get it done one way or another.' And he likes that; that's what he tries to bring out of you. He doesn't want you to retreat at all.” -- UConn's Kalana Greene, on coach Geno Auriemma's sometmes brutally honest criticism
But without Montgomery, the Huskies still had Tina Charles and Maya Moore to occupy the spotlight. They still had Caroline Doty and Tiffany Hayes to split up playmaking responsibilities in the backcourt. They simply couldn't still have the old Greene.
"In the beginning it was definitely a challenge because I had to step outside of the role I was so comfortable with, and [fill] not necessarily a role I really wanted to be in, but then I just felt like I needed to be that person," Greene said of taking on a leadership role in title (as a tri-captain), and also in spirit. "But as the season goes on, you get used to it. And I feel like that's the person I needed to be and the person I want to be now.
"So it was harder more early in the season, but now, sometimes it's hard to maintain it, but you've just got to be a constant leader. Even if you're not hitting shots, you just got to be there constantly to do all the little things."
Things that don't always show up on the stat sheet, although Greene does plenty of those, as well, ranking third on the team in points and rebounds and second in steals. Yet for all the talk of the winning streak that surrounds them, for all the debate over whether they're somehow bad for the very sport at which they excel, the Huskies genuinely do seem somewhat removed from it all.
Some teams appear to carry the burden of their greatness with them at all times. Part of Greene's burden is ensuring the Huskies continue carrying nothing more substantial than their goofiness with them when they leave the court.
"No matter what she says, she'll get you laughing, whether it be through music or different comments," said Doty, a sophomore. "She's always positive and always keeping you laughing or thinking funny thoughts, kind of keeping the mood easy and light. I mean, she'll keep us in line with what to do and what not to do, but she'll make the mood easy and keep you relaxed. She's a relaxer."
And whether it's effect and cause or cause and effect, Auriemma seems equally at peace with this season's team -- the one whose leadership he spoke of with question marks at the beginning of the season -- as he was with Montgomery's team last season. As Greene put it, she feels like she has earned his trust, just as true senior Tina Charles has. It doesn't mean he won't still poke Greene about a perceived poor showing in the Sweet 16 against Iowa State or other shortcomings, but she has earned the right to get in an occasional shot of her own.
"Our best players have usually had that kind of relationship with him," Dailey said. "And the kids playing the best -- and the kids he can count on and they know that -- usually have that. And I think that's what Kalana has developed this year with him."
Perhaps Greene isn't Montgomery reincarnate when it comes to taking ownership of the team. Perhaps she's not even in the same league on that count as Diana Taurasi, Jennifer Rizzotti and other memorable foils for Auriemma. Sharing a team with two of the best college players of recent memory (if not all time), perhaps the best Greene can manage is to lease this team rather than own it.
"They're more a collection of parts that make a great whole," Auriemma said of the current Huskies. "Some of the other teams I've had, there were individuals on there that were -- like they don't have what Renee had. But they get the same things done. They just do it a different way."
That might all be true. But if Auriemma wants to tell Greene he's still not sure where the leadership or personality on this team comes from, you sense she'd have an honest two-word response for him.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.