CEDAR FALLS — Being a program’s highest rated recruit in history comes with high expectations.
Add to that being the hometown standout and son of the assistant coach, and it becomes hard to create more perfect circumstances for expectations.
Through two seasons AJ Green has met and exceeded the expectations that arrived with him on Northern Iowa’s campus in 2018.
Entering his junior season, he has the Missouri Valley Conference’s freshman of the year and Larry Bird player of the year trophies in his possession. Meanwhile, the Panthers enter this season fresh off their first MVC regular-season championship since 2010.
Now, after a summer where Green briefly entered his name into the NBA Draft before withdrawing, UNI Coach Ben Jacobson isn’t tempering praise — or expectations — for his star guard.
“I don’t think, I know, (Green) is one of the best scorers in college. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Jacobson said.
Earlier this week, during UNI’s media day, Jacobson described improved strength and footwork from Green in preseason practices — a focal point of the feedback he got during Zoom meetings with NBA teams this summer.
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Off the court or on it, Jacobson said everything that’s come Green’s way has been dealt with in impressive fashion.
“The thing that I’ve been most impressed with — and I don’t like speaking for his teammates, but I think they would probably say the same thing — is how he’s handled everything,” Jacobson said. “He was freshman of the year and that didn’t slow him down from putting in more and more time to get better.
“He just wants to get back to work. If he has a great game, he’s back in there at whatever time it is.”
Having the label of a “veteran” now comes with more responsibility and challenges. The days of leading by example aren’t enough anymore, Green said.
“It’s something I’ve been trying to work a lot at here over the summer and as we’ve practiced the last few months,” Green said. “I’d say my freshman and sophomore year I was more kind of lead by example and trying to do the right thing being in the gym. So, I’ve really tried to take that leadership step (with) just being vocal, teach guys on the court in practice, doing (those) types of things.”
With the NCAA granting an additional year of eligibility to winter athletes, Green could play three more seasons for Jacobson, his dad (Kyle Green) and the Panthers. However, whether it’s this summer or the next, he’s likely to become the first in program history to hear the NBA commissioner call his name.
“It’s very motivating, I would say, just knowing that (the NBA) realizes that I can be that type of player,” Green said. “I’ve always known it, but I still have things to work on. That’s fine with me. I know I can always get better and improve.
“Just hearing what they had to say was motivating.”