Arizona freshman Josh Green didn't set out to become a blue-chip basketball prospect. In fact, the 19-year-old Australian didn't even start playing basketball full-time until five years ago. Green's first love was actually Aussie rules football, otherwise known as "footy." He was enrolled in a professional academy in Australia, but chose basketball when he moved to the United States at age 14, eventually attending the renowned college basketball finishing school IMG Academy. After two seasons in Bradenton, Florida -- Green led IMG to the Geico National Championship, earning title game MVP honors -- he became a McDonald's All American and was a two-time Nike Hoops Summit participant.
On the brink of what might be his only run in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, the 6-foot-6 (with a 6-11 wingspan), 215-pound forward (he has put on 15 pounds since enrolling in college) caught up with ESPN to discuss his old-school approach, why he loves playing defense (Green's 1.6 steals per game lead all Pac-12 freshmen), which areas he has improved in the most (11.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for Arizona this season) and why his native Australia will always hold a special place in his heart.
Jordan Schultz, ESPN: What has been your favorite thing about Arizona? What do you like most about school, and what has been the most challenging adjustment?
Josh Green: The best thing about Tucson is the community -- everything from the fan base to just being in a college town. It's a cool feeling. It's a small town; everyone loves basketball here. The environment really helps and motivates you when people come up to you and want to take pictures. They want to talk to you and that motivates you to keep working and play as hard as you can in games. That is probably the coolest thing.
On top of that, our team chemistry has been really cool as well. Everyone gets along with each other; we all hang with each other off the court. It is probably the best team chemistry of any team I have really ever been on. There wasn't really too many hard things coming into it, because I was at IMG for two years, so I am used to living by myself, taking care of myself. As far as basketball, the hardest thing is probably picking up defensive concepts, the plays and trying to fit into the system.
ESPN: How would you characterize Sean Miller's defensive concepts?
Green throws down pair of high-flying jams for Arizona
Arizona's Josh Green shows off his athleticism, flushing two highlight-reel slams in transition in less than two minutes of game action.
Green: We play a pack-line defense, so we have to go through a lot of pack-line defense, getting used to it. I was always used to stealing through the lanes and taking the ball, but with pack-line defense you stay disciplined, follow the rules, always need to be in the correct places, whether that is coming off on-ball screens, knowing what to do, whether to switch, when to get over, whether to force to a certain side. It is just all about getting those types of things down, and it took time. I am still trying to improve on all of this now, but it has definitely gotten a lot better.
ESPN: What is the biggest impact Sean Miller has had on you?
Green: Holding me accountable. ... He is not afraid to get on me. He doesn't care who you are, where you come from, he will get onto me and will do it in a way in which I can understand. Not too many coaches will really go out there to really get into a player. I respect it. At the time, it feels terrible but then when you think about it and you're able to put what he said onto the court, it comes together. I respect him a lot more for being able to have that relationship with me and it just shows that he cares about me and he wants the best for me.
ESPN: Was there a certain practice that he got on you a lot and you realized, "OK, this is what I have to do now?"
Green: Yeah, our St. Mary's scrimmage [in mid-October]. He didn't start me for that scrimmage. Not so much because I didn't deserve but to see how I could handle it. You know, I was practicing pretty good and playing well, so I was surprised when he did it. I came out in the game and played pretty well. I played decent in the scrimmage for my first college game, even though it was closed off. His biggest thing was just making sure that I didn't show any emotions on the court. Towards the end of the game, I started getting quiet -- I wasn't talking as much, so he got into me after the game. He got into me quite a lot and I realized after that I needed to turn my game up another level.
Watching extra film, making sure every single player I played against from here on out I have a whole scouting report against them, watching every single play they've done, every single [time they've scored]. I got in the gym a lot in summer, but I started to even more, two to three times a day on my own time. Then stuff started coming with that. I won "gold jersey" two times in the span of three weeks. I started to lock down and pay attention to what he was teaching me and be able to put into a game.
ESPN: Explain what the gold jersey is.
Green: The gold jersey is basically every single week of practice, everything from points scored to steals to assists [is added together to devise a winner].
Green: Yeah, deflections were a big part. That was just added this year. Like right now, I'm leading the team in deflections; I think that's a big part of a game, because they really change a game. Really [the gold jersey] is the best player in practice from the week. We have statistics which can show it and kind of a way to make it a competitive environment at practice.
Green goes coast-to-coast for the dunk
Josh Green grabs the rebound off the missed free throw and goes coast-to-coast for the one-handed jam.
ESPN: You told me earlier that you want to be the best defensive player in the country. Was it hard to adjust your mindset from a go-to scorer in high school to a defensive-minded player in college?
Green: It's one of those things that you just need to think of what's best for the team. Obviously, we have a very talented team this year and just like any other team, you're just not trying to be out to just go out there and score 20-25 points a game, especially in a college system against college defenses. It's hard to score in college and you obviously won't have those games every single game. I found joy out of playing good defense. I love playing defense. I love the feeling of shutting down a player and you know it's just fun. Defense creates offense, and my biggest thing was, "What can I do to help my team out the most?" And it's defense. Every single game I go in with the same approach -- trying to lock down the player I am guarding and do whatever I can to help the team win.
ESPN: What has been the biggest challenge, basketball-wise?
Green: Probably talking. It's such a loud arena so I need to make sure that I continue to be vocal. Coach Miller and I have been working on that a lot at practice and I have always been a leader from example. I talk but I have never been that loudmouth type of guy on the court. I have always led by example, so it is kinda putting that to the side and making sure I continue to talk and make my presence heard. We are working on that, and it's definitely gotten better.
Arizona's Green drives the baseline and scores
Josh Green starts from the corner and drives down to the bucket for a two-handed layup.
ESPN: What does Australia mean to you?
Green: I miss Australia so much. Every single time on the court I feel like I am representing Australia. That's probably the first thing people bring up about me is that I'm Australian, so I want to make sure that in every way possible I can make a good message to Australians. Not only do I want to do that just by my game but I want to be able to show kids in Australia that I was just a little kid who dreamed of playing college basketball and no dream is too big, no matter where you are in the world even if you are on the other side. Those are definitely the biggest things for me. I care about Australia so much. I want to be able to represent them one day.
The sacrifices my parents have made, letting us move over to America, is huge. My biggest thing from that is just being able to make the most of every single opportunity I get. They have given me a numerous amount of opportunities and it's just up to me to make the most of them. To learn as much as I can and take them for what they are. My goal is to be able to continue to do that as well as give as many opportunities as I can to my little brother and little sister who are coming up.
ESPN: Who have you leaned on the most as far as prominent Aussies in the NBA or otherwise?
Arizona's Green knocks down a couple quick 3s
Josh Green hits a pair of 3-pointers in quick succession courtesy of good ball movement from the Wildcats.
Green: I talk to Ben [Simmons] the most. He has been a really big help to me. You know, to just have someone reach out like that who has had a similar past to me -- playing high school basketball in America and the college system as well. Having him talk to me is really good and it shows that he cares about upcoming Australian players. He wants me to also help out other kids coming up and have a relationship with them. He has been great. Joe Ingles has hit me up a couple of times. Obviously, he is a big factor in Australian basketball right now. [Matthew] Dellavedova has hit me up. There's been players like that from Australia who have definitely helped out and they're all for it. They want the best for me, and it's [nice] having that. And obviously not Australian, but with Arizona you have people like Andre Iguodala. That's been pretty cool as well.
ESPN: How did the relationship with Iguodala come about?
Green: One of our assistant coaches, Coach [Jack] Murphy, is really close with Andre. Andre came down for a weekend and watched us practice and was able to talk to us. Not only was he professional on the court, it was interesting seeing what he was like off the court. I have similar hobbies as far as business and it was cool to hear about that as well. After that, we texted each other a lot.
He texts me after games and he came to the game when we played St. John's. And the biggest thing [he has shared with me] is just letting the defense take care of itself; defense is going to create your offense and you don't need to force any shots up. You're not gonna score amazing numbers every single game, but you can play defense every single game. It is certain things like that which I have taken directly from him. I love watching him play and the role he has played on teams is a really good role. It is one of those roles which makes it so much cooler to watch a game.
ESPN: When you think about the NBA, is there a certain player you look at now and say, "I want to be like that guy. I can do that"?
Green: It's hard to say because every current player wants to be themselves. They want to have their own role distinct on a team. Obviously, I want to be that player where a team can really put me in anywhere and just having an all-around game. Every single team would benefit from having a player who plays defense and cares about the game like me. I am not a selfish player; I am a young and willing player. Players like Josh Richardson, they've had a great career. Even players like Kawhi Leonard -- they start out just playing defense and I think it translates to offense a lot, so Andre Iguodala, players like that. I'd definitely say Andre Iguodala's career has been something I could see myself trying to do.
ESPN: I know that growing up you never missed the Christmas Day NBA games, but how much did coming to the U.S. influence you choosing basketball? In other words, if you had stayed in Australia, would the trajectory have been to pursue footy professionally within the AFL?
Green: I think so. I was in a certain position in Australian Football where I was pretty set as far as what I could have done, professional-wise. I was training with the pro team academies and I was at all these big Australian football camps. As far as that, I feel like I was more ahead in Australian football than I was well-known in basketball in Australia. I felt like I was more well-known definitely in footy.
Mannion dishes to Green for fast-break dunk
Nico Mannion steals the ball, turns up court and dimes Josh Green for an Arizona dunk.
ESPN: Did playing footy and soccer help your basketball footwork?
Green: Yeah, 100 percent. Growing up playing soccer and also Australian football, it helped me a lot. My first step on defense -- beating a player to a spot -- it's little things like that which translated from those sports and being tough. You know, even just dunking with Australian football -- the way we go up -- is kind of similar to dunking. [Australian football] is one of those sports I definitely miss, but at the same time, I am very grateful for it.
ESPN: Do you ever think about what could have been with Australian football?
Green: Yeah, I mean, I think about it all the time. Honestly, I look back at me being in Australia and I think I would have continued to play Australian Football. I don't know if I would have continued to play basketball. Obviously, I love basketball, but at the same time in Australia -- I feel like it's a better career playing Australian football. Growing up in Australia, it's a better opportunity as far as that.
I love the game, I started playing it honestly a little bit more, so it was a discussion that came up a lot in the house when I talked to my mom and dad, like what am I gonna do? Am I gonna go to play Australian Football? They wanted to make sure I knew what I wanted to do when the decision had to come. But then, at the same time, I was more than happy to move to America. I miss Australian Football so much, but I'm so grateful for the move I made, and I think for that, I chose basketball in the end. It's a surreal feeling, but it's cool where basketball has been able to take me.