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May 25, 2005At the 2004 Kingwood Classic in Houston, Rivals.com basketball analyst Tim Watts took a trip halfway across town to check out Gerald Green, a below-the-radar prospect whom he had heard about and been impressed with on film.
There were only a handful of people in the stands, mostly parents.
"I wasn't surprised that it wasn't crowded since nobody really knew who he was," Watts said. "I went there specifically to see him and was not disappointed."
Watts was only in the gym a few minutes when Green, a shooting guard from Houston's Gulf Shores Academy, ran out on a break, filled the lane and caught an alley-oop pass from UNLV signee Jovan Adams. On the next possession, Green took his opponent off the dribble from 25-feet away and knocked down a jump shot.
It's that kind of versatility and sheer ability that has the 6-foot-8 Green, Rivals.com's No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2005, near the top of the 2005 NBA draft board. According to multiple draft experts, Green is expected to be the first high school player taken in the June 18 draft.
The lofty predictions of his draft position (Watts said he would not be surprised to see Green taken as high as third) come as no surprise as Green, who has drawn comparisons to Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady, has great size and athleticism for a shooting guard.
"We know the NBA covets guys with size and skills," Watts said. "When he gets a little bigger, he will be able to post up smaller defenders and drag bigger, slower guys out to the perimeter and beat them with his quickness."
Unlike McGrady, who had to work on his shot to improve at the pro level, Green already can shoot the ball at an elite level.
After that game more than a year ago in a mostly empty gym in Houston, Green landed himself squarely on the radar of college and pro scouts. He also made his debut at No. 9 in the Rivals.com player rankings. Rivals was first to rank Green that high and just prior to the summer, he was perched at the top spot, looking down at the rest of the talented class.
"We were aware that we had him ranked higher than all of the other recruiting analysts in the country," Watts said. "We weren't worried about what anyone else thought or where they had him ranked. We figured that they would catch up eventually. Some did and some didn't."
While it was apparent from the start that Green was destined for a lofty ranking, it wasn't as if Watts and company made a hasty call.
"At that moment, we knew he had a chance to be our top player," Watts said. "The biggest question was where he fell among the other top players in the country. There were a lot of great prospects in this class and we spent a lot of time looking at Josh McRoberts, Monta Ellis and Louis Williams, in addition to Green just to make sure we made the right choice."
After making his debut in the RivalsHoops.com Top 10, things began to pick up for Green in terms of interest and respect.
"Nobody knew me a year ago and then Rivals.com dropped me in at No. 9 and all of a sudden, I had that respect when I walked in the gym," Green said. "Things really changed, though, when I was ranked No. 1
"I would have been happy being in the top 50, but No. 1 was amazing."
His AAU coach, Rick Nelson of Houston Elite, saw the potential for Green to be more than one of the top 50 prospects even earlier than Rivals.com did.
"I knew Gerald had a chance to be special after his junior season when he played really well," Nelson said. "You could tell he was heading in the right direction. I always knew he had the talent, but the big question was if he was willing to step up and make the sacrifices necessary to become an elite player in this class.
"He did that and you can see the results."
Those results never were more obvious than during the McDonald's All-American game March 29 in South Bend, Ind. Green hit 6 of 9 3-pointers and finished with 24 points.
"He has three gifts that can't be taught," said Rivals.com basketball analyst Jerry Meyer, who covered the game and the practice sessions leading up to it. "He's 6-8, his athleticism is off the charts, and he is an outstanding shooter."
Green also hit two key foul shots down the stretch and electrified the crowd with a baseline dunk, putting on a show for the many NBA scouts in the stands.
"I knew there was going to be a lot of NBA scouts there, but that didn't worry me," Green said. "I wanted to go out and represent my state, my family and my friends.
"I caught my rhythm and just played hard."
While Green is expected to develop into a NBA standout, there are areas of his game that need work. He admits that he needs to get physically and mentally tougher and has been spending a lot of time in the gym to improve those areas. He also has extended his already lethal shooting range to about 28-feet.
"I have gained 8-10 pounds of muscle, so I weigh 205 now," Green said. "Also, I have stayed on top of my jumper by shooting hundreds of them."
Former NBA player and coach John Lucas, a Houston resident, adds that Green's intensity level needs to be brought up a notch.
"He needs work on all the things that any young player would need work on," Lucas said. "If he gets pushed and if he lets someone push him, he has a chance to be a great pro.
"But will he be an immediate impact player like a Kobe (Bryant), (Kevin) Garnett or Lebron James? No."
Meyer believes that while Green's ability to score without dribbling makes him a coveted NBA prospect, he needs to develop a more complete game. Meyer cited ball handling and becoming a more physical player on defense as two areas that need improvement.
"If he doesn't develop an ability to play defense and rebound, I'm not sure he's going to be a great pro," Meyer said. "If he does, then he could be Tracy McGrady.
"There is a wide range of possibilities for Green at the next level."
Nelson says Green ranks up there with recent Houston greats like T.J. Ford, Daniel Ewing, Rashard Lewis and Daniel Gibson.
"Time will tell where he falls in the overall scheme of things," Nelson said. "But I'm not going to take anything away from Gerald, he deserves to be mentioned with the others."
Green committed to Oklahoma State during the early signing period, but given his status as the nation's top prospect, it was widely speculated that he would enter the draft. That speculation gained momentum through his senior season.
In addition to being a standout player on the court, Green is a standout person off it. Nearly everyone who has met him raves about his personality and humble nature. Going from a relative unknown to the nation's top player, one could see how someone so young could experience a period of difficult adjustment. Not so with Green.
"All of a sudden (after being ranked No. 1 in the country), little kids were looking up to me and I don't want to give the wrong impression," Green said. "It changed my image."
Watts took notice of Green's solid off-the-court image at this year's Kingwood Classic.
"He was taking pictures with the fans and signing autographs," Watts said. "He's surprisingly humble and soft spoken, but at the same time confident and respectful on the court."
Green credits Nelson and his family for his success.
"I've been blessed to have such a strong group of people surrounding me and keeping me away from pitfalls," Green said. "When the NBA talk began, I had a lot of people coming at me, but I kept it simple by trusting the people who had been with me from the beginning."
• AMP Video: Why Green is No. 1
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