Maybe it's a kind of reverse poetic justice. Even in 1969, when Mike Green was just a lean 6-foot-10 center from McComb, Mississippi, who could play every position on the floor, the program was immediately forced to catch up to what he could do. In Memorial Gym, he was ahead of his time.
"I guess I could be angry it took so long, but man, I go back to Ruston and see how things have changed for the better…Right now, I'm in hog heaven," said Green from his home in Denver. "If I meet somebody from Louisiana Tech, I'm always going to talk to them. I love talking about my time there. It all turned into good stuff."
The tricky part of his Tech career involves two things, neither of which Green is responsible for. One was the racial tension in America then: Ruston was not exempt. Two is the nagging fact that the program was placed on indefinite probation and Green’s college coaches on personal probation by the NCAA during Green's rookie season in the old American Basketball Association.
The tricky part now is Green's health. A freak parking lot accident when he was a car salesman in Denver more than a decade ago led to a vertebrae surgery he regrets. He's in bed now, "trying to get back to my wheelchair," he said. He takes medication daily. And his wife passed away in early October; he'll miss the induction ceremony of the Class of '15.
"But my daughter will be there, my granddaughter and grandson," said Green, a 1996 inductee into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. "Man, you know there's no way I would have missed that. I have some good friends down there. Louisiana was always cool with me, especially Tech. I got treated really nice. Hey, those people hollered for me."
They did, because the one clear-cut thing about Mike Green is what he did on the court. If you're less than 50, you probably don't even know about him, but if you were there, if you were one of the thousands who stood in line to see Mike Green...
"You should have seen him play," they all say. "You missed it," they say. "Oh, man, I wish you could have been there," they say.
As facts and stories illustrate, what a show it must have been.
A few of the facts:
• A four-year letterman (1969-70 through the 1972-73 season), Green is still the program's all-time career leader in points (2,340, even without the three-point shot) and rebounds (1,575).
• He was all-conference four times and was selected to numerous all-American teams, including the United Press International Small College team, the Associated Press team, the Basketball News and U.S. Basketball Coaches Association teams.
• Green was the AP College Division Player of the Year and the Southland Conference Player of the Year in 1972-73 when his 30.9 points-per-game average was the nation’s second best per-game average.
• He helped the Bulldogs make history when on Jan. 19, 1971 the team was ranked No. 1 in the country by the AP. This came almost a week after Tech took down No. 1-ranked University of Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) in a packed Memorial Gym; Green had 22 points and 16 rebounds – blocked shots weren’t a stat then – in the 103-94 win. “It was the greatest game ever at Louisiana Tech, bar none,” said Leon Barmore who, like Green, is a member of both the state and Tech halls of fame. “People were in line at 5 o’clock to get in Memorial Gym. Men just didn’t do that back then; but they did that night. Best game ever. No question.”
• Green’s teams spent 36 consecutive weeks ranked in the Top 10 – from Dec. 1971 through March 1973 – before moving to Major College status in 1973-74; that streak ranks ninth in Division II history.
• The Bulldogs went 81-21 during Green’s four-year career.
• Green scored at least 30 points in 23 games, one of 14 individual Tech records he set.
• Green scored 47 against Lamar on Jan. 22, 1973, a single-game record Mike McConathy would tie three years later.
• The 1971-72 team averaged 101.1 points per game and eclipsed 100 points in 18 of its 26 games.
• He played three seasons in the ABA and in 1974 was named to the ABA All-Rookie team; he was an ABA All-Star in 1975 and played in the NBA from 1976 to 1980.
• Green was money for the Bulldogs.
A few of the stories:
• Bud Dean, the senior captain of Tech’s team during Green’s freshman season, watched Green shoot in Memorial Gym in street clothes late one night after a Tech game during a recruiting trip when Green was a senior at Higgins High in McComb. In jeans, a T-shirt and borrowed sneakers, with Dean and a couple of teammates sitting in the stands near midnight after they’d lost at home to Northeast, Green and another recruit stretched and dribbled a bit, then Green went to the gym floor’s extreme southwest corner and started shooting jump shots. “I started counting after he’d hit three in a row,” Dean said. “After five, we all started counting.” Green hit 17 straight. “Remember it like it was yesterday,” Dean said. Tech finished 12-13 that season. The next winter, Green’s freshman season, Tech went 17-5.
• Green scored 40 as a senior in the finals of the Mid-South Invitational Tournament against Centenary and freshman Robert Parish, with several scouts looking on. “If he was worried, he didn’t show it,” Tech coach Scotty Robertson said then. “When he came in the dressing room, he was whistling.”
• “He’s the best player I saw during my time at Tech because he was so versatile,” said Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Keith Prince, the school’s sports information director from 1969-93. “He had everything…And I can’t remember him ever being late or anything but cooperative when I needed him. All those teams were fun to be around and Mike fit in perfectly.”
Now Green is a perfect fit for Tech’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It’s great he’s finally being recognized for what he did on the court for Tech, for all the honors and recognition the school received because of him during that time,” Dean said.
“(NBA Hall of Famer) George Gervin is a good example of what Mike Green was like,” said Barmore, who captained the Bulldogs and graduated two years before Green’s freshman season. “He’s the greatest to ever play at Tech, and I’ve seen ’em all. There’s never been another player like him here.”
“I’m very grateful for this,” Green said. “You know, I tried to make the best out of it back then. We had a lot of fun. All the way through life, you’ll have good things and bad things; it’s all about learning. But it sure seems like this has turned out pretty good.”
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