CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa freshman A.J. Green is keeping his cool in the face of the highest expectations ever for a Panther freshman.
Green became the first four-star recruit to commit to UNI when he made his announcement just over a year ago. The No. 78 recruit in ESPN’s top 100 is just over a week away from making his much-anticipated debut and UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said without hesitation at Wednesday’s annual media day that he’s the team’s starting point guard.
“I think mostly what (A.J.’s) done and what he’s already earned, even though he hasn’t done it in a game for us yet, he’s proven (it) through our workouts,” Jacobson said. “He’s earned the right to be that guy, and be that guy from day one.”
Green’s father, Kyle, the associate head coach for the Panthers, understands that the expectations for his oldest child will be as big as any freshman in program history. Green doesn’t expect his son will need a specific conversation about those expectations. Mostly, he’s glad to have a front row seat for his son’s collegiate career after missing many of his games while he was a prep.
“Maybe we’re being naive, we’ve probably thought about it individually a little bit but haven’t talked about (expectations),” UNI associate head coach Kyle Green said. “Maybe it is one of those things that until it’s something that we need to talk about, (but), we haven’t. He’s kind of just always gone out and played.”
Despite the acclaim Green garnered throughout his illustrious prep career at Cedar Falls, he possesses the typical quiet and mild mannerisms many freshmen do. However, as the day-one starter at point guard in what’s known to be a complex offense, he says he’s working on improving his communication.
“(Communication) is something they’ve really pushed me to improve upon,” Green said. “Being louder, don’t worry about (being) a freshman. Coach told me, the guys, they trust me. I’ve just got to really be loud, be a leader, don’t be afraid to tell people what to do.”
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After two consecutive seasons of .500 or worse records, Green will be at the center of any resurgence by the Panthers. Fellow newcomers Trae Berhow and Shandon Goldman are expected to ease the weight on his shoulders, but the highly-touted recruit is well aware of the expectations for him to contribute considerably right away.
“I don’t think (the nerves) will get to me. Basketball is basketball,” Green said. “(The) level can change, but the game’s not going to change at all. Just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
When Green made his verbal commitment to UNI in August 2017, he told The Gazette that he and Jacobson share a goal of a Final Four appearance. While many could expect that to be a goal for later in his career, he didn’t shy away from mentioning March wins Wednesday.
“Winning a conference championship, a conference tournament championship, making the NCAA Tournament — those are the biggest (goals),” Green said. “I really want to get to the NCAA Tournament (and) win a few games.”