AJ Green is Back at 100%, and the MVC Should be Petrified
The Cedar Valley had high expectations for AJ Green when he was coming out of Cedar Falls High School. After being ranked as a 4-star recruit by ESPN and winning the ever-elusive 4A State Championship as a senior, those expectations were warranted.
In every season he's been healthy, he's more than lived up to them.
The now-junior came in as a freshman in 2018-2019 and led the Panthers in scoring with 15 points per game and finished the season leading the team in assists with 77 total. The following year he made a gigantic leap, averaging 19.7 points per game and increasing his total assists to 92 and shooting percentage from the field, three range, and the free throw line. He led the Panthers to a 25-6 overall record and went on to earn the Larry Bird Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Year.
After being sidelined with a hip injury for the 2020-2021 season, Green is back post-surgery and ready to go. We recently spoke on the Panther Point of View podcast (link below), and he had this to say regarding his health:
I'm 100%. No issues or anything for a few months now. I'm ready to roll.
Given the return of Austin Phyfe, Tywhon Pickford, Trae Berhow, Noah Carter, and Antwan Kimmons from the 2019 team, it's not just AJ that is to be feared on this UNI squad. They also bring back Bowen Born, who was the MVC Freshman of the Year last season.
In reference to that team, AJ says that is the model for UNI success. And having the aforementioned group back helps a lot:
We know what it looks like, what it takes, what leadership is needed from the older guys. How to handle some adversity throughout the year, how to continue to get better. ... I think this year's team can, knock on wood, be better than that team.
Coach Ben Jacobson, who has been the head coach of the men's program in Cedar Falls for 14 years, is ready to roll, too. Green can tell,
He's definitely ready to go. The guys are, too. We have so many weapons and so many guys that can help us on both ends of the floor. ... We have all the pieces.
Green and the Panthers have lofty goals going into the 2021 season, and they took me by surprise for sure:
The biggest goal is the Final Four. That's one I've always had since I came here, Coach Jake as well. That's what we're going to make happen this year. ... It'll be tough, but the guys on the team aren't going to back down from it. We all want it.
For AJ as an individual, he says the Bob Cousy Award is within reach. The award goes to the best point guard in the nation -- no UNI basketball player has won such a title.
After taking some time and participating in the 2020 NBA Draft process, Green believes he's made strides to get better and put himself on the watch list for the honor:
Assist to turnover ratio, decision-making, building on my shot, shooting at a higher clip, extending my range a little bit. ... I feel like I'm at a good spot with them. It was a great process.
He'd also be the first men's basketball player in UNI history to be drafted, should that happen.
That's always been a goal of mine, to try to be the first guy to do it. I know Coach Jake and my teammates believe in me. I can't get there without their support or their help. It's really a team effort in trying to make that happen.
The fact that he isn't at a blue-blood basketball program doesn't phase him, either. Along with a bit of recruitment from one of the best basketball player in UNI history, Seth Tuttle, the former Cedar Falls Tiger says the Panther program has everything he needs:
This is where I know I was meant to be. ... You look at some of the best guards in the NBA, like Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Steph Curry, Ja Morant, the confidence they have in themselves is so high. ... They had the freedom to play within themselves at those schools. It's the confidence. That's not why I came here, but it's a part of it. This is where I want to be, and I want to make history here at UNI, without a doubt.