CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa guard AJ Green would get a lot of attention even if he wasn’t a Cedar Falls native or his dad wasn’t an assistant on Ben Jacobson’s staff.
The highest ranked recruit in program history, Green again leads the Panthers in scoring (16.6 points per game) a year after living up to the hype by earning Missouri Valley Conference freshman of the year.
But, take a look past Green’s talents and his father’s basketball expertise, and find Michele Green. The mom at the center of a Cedar Valley basketball family.
“It’s such a blessing,” Michele Green said of her son being in town at UNI. “It’s really neat how our community has kind of bonded around, actually, both of our kids. In my office with the patients that I see during the day, it’s almost like my kids have a bunch of extra grandparents that have become Panther fans. It’s pretty cool.”
A chiropractor in Cedar Falls, Michele met Kyle while the two were both playing basketball at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., in the early 1990s.
AJ and younger sister Emerson — currently a standout junior on Cedar Falls’ girls’ basketball team — largely grew up in Cedar Falls and around UNI. So, when it came time for AJ to make his college choice, Michele put her mom skills to use.
“You know AJ is not a big talker,” Michele said. “I was actually kind of able to tap into him a bit, mostly just by being a dorky, stupid mom. Poking fun at him a little bit — that’s kind of how I got him to spill the beans basically of where he wanted to go. He just truly the whole time wanted to go with his heart and he knew he was a Panther.
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“I’ll tell you what, once he came to that decision and made that decision, I feel like I got my kid back because I think it was stressful for him.”
As a former college player herself, the two regularly talk basketball, whether it’s a clip one of them saw from a game or something Michele saw in a UNI game. She also reaches out to AJ before each game with a special message.
“I have this little routine every game — I send him a little text message. Like a funny little rhyme,” Michele said. “Whether it’s about the game or the day. Just always remind him to be the leader that God made him to be.”
Like any mother would, Michele loves AJ’s frequent visits home — where he’s spent all of his holiday break — and the fact he’s not a picky eater when it comes to her cooking.
“He loves healthy (food) so it makes (cooking) pretty easy. He just likes good (food) and some days maybe when I cook it’s good and maybe some days it’s not as good,” she said with a laugh.
AJ brought up his mother when discussing his competitiveness and work ethic. Ask who the best basketball player in the family is, though, and AJ has mom coming up short.
“I can’t not say myself,” AJ said with a laugh. “Everybody else in the family can hoop, too. My sister is a great player. My dad was good, played overseas for three years, and my mom was good, too. Everybody in the family can hoop a little bit.”
UNI is 11-1 and 22nd in the the NCAA’s NET rankings, but AJ, Jacobson and the rest of the Panthers have made a point to not focus on their record. Instead the Panthers have pointed toward extra work in the gym paying off in a school record-tying non-conference record.
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Ask the starting point guard’s mom how these Panthers are getting the job done and the answer goes beyond the hardwood.
“I think my favorite thing about this crew is they genuinely want the best for each other,” Michele said. “They kind of have this fun little feel about them that says, ‘we got this.’”
With AJ already nearing the halfway point of his sophomore year — one with the potential to be especially memorable — Michele had one piece of advice for fellow moms.
“I would say to any mom out there ... just enjoy the moment,” she said. “Get caught up in the moment and enjoy the ride because, holy cow, it goes fast.”