At La Salle, going Green brought about successful resurgence

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La Salle's Rodney Green has 1,715 career points, 559 rebounds and 343 assists. (Clem Murray/Staff file photo)

ON ANY BASKETBALL team it's easy to pick out the numbers guy, a statistics-obsessed player with the talent and the ego to shoot his team into or out of any game. Numbers guys are not necessarily dissuaded from putting the ball up again and again, even when their stroke has temporarily lost its sweetness. They're certain their hot hand will present itself again, maybe starting with the next jumper or whirling-dervish layup that swishes through.

The counterpart to the numbers guy, of course, is the selfless worker bee, always willing to do the heavy lifting for little or no glory if it advances his team's chances for victory.

Perhaps the rarest sort of player is the amalgamation of both types. Someone with the sort of personality that allows him to recognize those occasions when he's required to assert himself as the star performer, and those when his most telling contribution is to subjugate elements of his game for the betterment of the collective.

A player like La Salle senior point guard Rodney Green, in other words.

Ask Green what accomplishments during his four seasons with the Explorers he's most proud of and he'll grudgingly admit that his membership in the school's highly exclusive 1,500-500-300 club is on the list. The "L-Train," 1990 national Player of the Year Lionel Simmons, is the only other La Salle player to have accumulated 1,500 career points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists.

With the career-high 32 points, five rebounds and five assists he contributed in Saturday's 84-82 loss to Charlotte in Tom Gola Arena, Green - last week's Atlantic 10 Conference and Big 5 player of the week - now has 1,715 career points, 559 rebounds and 343 assists. The Explorers visit Fordham tonight in a conference game.

But the humble and reserved Green is treasured by his coach, Dr. John Giannini, and teammates for reasons that extend beyond obvious statistical excellence. He makes the players around him better, as was the case when he led Prep Charter to the 2006 Class AAAA state championship. At La Salle, he was to be the chosen one who would not only steer the Explorers back to respectability on the court, but off it as well.

Forget the numbers for a second. How do you quantify leadership? How much value do you attach to a player who takes the lingering stains of a previous regime and scrubs them clean?

"As great a player as he is, he's an even better person," Giannini says of Green. "The people here at La Salle love him. He's very coachable and wants to become the best basketball player he possibly can be.

"Really, he doesn't have any negative issues whatsoever. He treats everyone great. He couldn't be a better kid if he tried."

To understand the importance of Green's role in La Salle's long-delayed resurgence, you have to return to the summer of 2004. The Explorers had gone 10-20 in what would prove to be coach Billy Hahn's third and final year at 20th and Olney, extending to 11 the longest streak of losing seasons in school history.

What's worse, two of Hahn's players - Gary Neal and Michael Cleaves - were charged in July with sexual assault of a 19-year-old visiting camp counselor. After those charges were made public, a La Salle women's player claimed that another member of the men's team, Dzaflo Larkai, had raped her in April 2003.

Hahn and women's basketball coach John Miller were forced to resign for not reporting the alleged sexual assault. Neal and Cleaves eventually were acquitted, and the Larkai case was dismissed when the alleged victim refused to proceed.

Into this controversy came Giannini, who looked good to La Salle not only because of his winning record (168-38 in seven seasons at Rowan, including a Division III national championship, and 125-111 in eight seasons at Maine), but because of his handling of an incident in which two of his players at Maine were dismissed from the squad after being charged with assaults against women.

How large was the construction project Giannini faced?

"Twelve straight losing seasons [Giannini's first La Salle team finished 10-19]. The off-the-court stuff. Players leaving," Giannini recalls with a shake of the head. "We only had seven [scholarship] players remaining.

"I didn't come in until August of 2004, so we obviously weren't going to bring in a recruiting class 1 week before school started. Recruiting is done so early nowadays, and, given the circumstances, it was impossible to get kids to commit in September and October for the early signing period [for the 2005-06 season].

"Our first normal recruiting class thus was '06. Rodney was the first player to commit to us. I can't stress how big that was because Rodney is a completely unique player. I've never seen a 6-5 kid as explosive as he is in the open court. He's a nightmare matchup for other teams."

After Green signed, other freshman building blocks soon followed: Kimmani Barrett, Yves Mekongo, Ruben Guillandeaux. But Green was viewed as the glue who would hold it all together until the youthful nucleus matured.

"Because we had no big guys, we decided to build around Rodney," Giannini says. "We wanted interchangeable guys, able to post up every position. We tried to be a little creative because we essentially were building a program from scratch."

La Salle went 10-20 and 15-17 in Green's first two seasons, but improved to 18-13 in 2008-09. This was the year it was all going to come together, with four senior starters augmented by 6-10 blue-chip freshman Aaric Murray. But Guillandeaux has played in only four games and is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right foot; Barrett has sat out the past four games and is set to have surgery for a fractured right foot, which is expected to keep him out for 6 to 8 weeks; and junior Terrell Williams is on suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Goodbye, Plan A. Say hello to Plan B.

"We're not where we want to be, but we still have a lot of games left to make it to where we want to go," Green said of the Explorers (10-9, 2-3 Atlantic 10). "If we finish strong, we'll be OK."

From rookie to seasoned veteran, Green has been the constant for La Salle from the time he first tugged on a blue-and-gold uniform. Before the Explorers' 67-63 loss at Richmond on Jan. 16, Spiders coach Chris Mooney said "the beginning, middle and end of the scouting report [on La Salle] was on stopping Rodney Green."

Green made a leap of faith when he decided to cast his lot with the Explorers. He's big on loyalty, and he modestly said he has given only in relation to what he has received. Asked why he signed with a team in turmoil, he said, "La Salle recruited me the hardest. Every time I turned around, someone from La Salle was at every game, every practice. I had to go to the school that loved me the most." *