HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Orien Greene lights up when talking about his high school and college glory days. He battled Miami Heat star Udonis Haslem while starring at Gainesville High and then joined forces with Haslem and fellow NBA stars David Lee and Matt Bonner during his first two college seasons playing for the hometown Florida Gators, all of them destined for long and fruitful careers on basketball’s biggest stage.
But unlike his former teammates, Greene’s path to the league has been littered with detours that he never imagined would be a part of his experience. And both Haslem and Bonner had scrap and claw their way into the league before becoming mainstays for contenders, Bonner in San Antonio.
So when Greene tells you he’s cherishing every minute of his latest attempt to make it back to the NBA, you know it’s coming from the right place.
“It’s definitely gone by in a blur. I can remember playing against Udonis in high school like it was yesterday,” Greene, 30, said of the hoops odyssey he’s been on for the better part of the last decade. “The time goes by just like that.”
Greene has had his taste of the league. The Boston Celtics selected him with the 53rd overall pick in the 2005 Draft, he finished his college career at Louisiana Lafayette, and spent his first season in the NBA as a backup point guard to Delonte West. But poor decision-making off the court cost him his spot on a young Celtics team, one that would be broken up later by the assembly of the famed Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Greene was waived by the Celtics in June of 2006, despite having played in all but two games and averaging 15.4 minutes during his rookie season. The Pacers picked him up off waivers but he played in just half of their games and never did distinguish himself on a roster crowded at the point guard position.
He signed with the Kings in August of 2007 and was waived before Thanksgiving, playing in just seven games in what was his last extended stint in the league. Since then he’s played for the New Zeeland Breakers (of the Australian Basketball League) and in the Netherlands, Israel and Canada, before settling in with the Los Angeles Defenders of D-League, his second stint there after playing for the Utah Flash from 2009-11.
It was a 10-day call up to the New Jersey Nets, while with the Defenders in 2011, that helped remind Greene where he belongs at this stage of his career. But he knows that with second and third chances come perspective that was missing earlier.
“When I first came into the league I was one of the older guys [on that Celtics team] and I don’t want to say I was overwhelmed or anything, but there were growing pains for me,” Greene said. “It was about growing up and understanding the business a little more. And I’m older and wiser now, I’ve got a little girl, I’m settled here in Houston and working hard every day and just trying to keep pushing at it right now.”
Greene works out in Houston under the watchful eye of former NBA point guard T.J. Ford, who has been impressed with the grind of the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Greene. Even at this stage of his career, his size, length and athleticism stand out at the position.
“He just needs an opportunity,” Ford said. “And when he gets it, he has to take full advantage of it. But he has the skills and the body. Now he just has to go out and produce.”
Greene wishes he’d been exposed to a wise veteran like Ford earlier in his career. His path might not have included some the stops and stars that he has endured. Ford agrees.
“I think when you come into the league, you’ve got to have a veteran guy that’s a mentor,” Ford said. “You’ve got to have the right guy to teach you how to be a professional and how the business of basketball works. Orien didn’t have the right veteran guy to take him under his wing and lean on. Because if there is one thing you learn, it’s that you can’t do it by yourself in this league.”
Greene just wants another shot to prove that he knows as much.
“All I need is a platform,” he said. “I need a chance to show teams that I’m still here, that I’ve grown in those areas that people have a tendency to think otherwise about me. But all I need right now is a shot.”