When Josh Green was 13, he boarded a jumbo jet at Sydney Airport and took off toward America. His parents and his three siblings filled the seats around him, but he didn't say much. He didn't watch any movies. He barely even slept. Instead, he passed the 14-hour flight to Los Angeles by imagining everything that would happen in the next few years of his life.
He started his basketball journey in this country with nothing but the fundamentals he brought from home in Australia. But as he begins his senior season at IMG Academy in Florida, Green has become the kind of player college coaches and NBA scouts covet. A crafty wing with a capable jump shot and a stunt-car driver's ability to weave through traffic, Green is a consensus top-10 player in the class of 2019 and a likely NBA lottery pick in 2020. Now the only goal that remains from that fateful flight five years ago is to make his D-I debut.
"I've decided," Green tells B/R, "I'm going to play for Arizona next year."
It's a fitting choice for Green, whose family made nearby Phoenix their home after they arrived in the U.S. five years ago.
"I look back at everything I've done and I've come through to be where I'm at, and I feel proud and it feels crazy," he says. "I moved from one side of the world to the other side of the world. A lot of kids in Australia would love to be in the situation I'm in. I'm excited for what's next."
Basketball wasn't always the plan for Green. His parents, Cahla (pronounced "Carla") and Delmas Green, both played professional basketball in Australia, but neither wanted to push Josh into their sport. So they let him try just about everything else.
He swam and ran cross-country, and he played rugby, tennis, soccer, tag football and Australian rules football. He excelled in everything he tried—except for a brief stint in gymnastics. ("He told me he couldn't do it," says Cahla, "because he was too tall and his legs landed too early.") When Josh was two, he was sitting in the stands to watch his five-year-old brother, Jay, play soccer. When Jay's coach informed Cahla and Demas he was short a player, Josh volunteered to join. He was practically swimming in the oversized shirt, but he managed to keep the team afloat as its goalkeeper.
By the age of 10, he'd made state teams in nine sports, including basketball. Cahla had started coaching Josh at age five, and it was clear from the start that it would be his best sport. (Delmas would later coach Josh in his first season of Australian high school, which starts in the American equivalent of seventh grade.)
It was in the fifth grade, though, that Josh had his first chance to make a New South Wales under-12 team. Cahla had given birth to his sister, Maya, days before, but that didn't stop her from packing the family into a rented camper van and driving 14 hours into the Outback. In Broken Hill, a frontier mining town, Josh was told he was good enough for the final roster but would have to wait a year so that other, older boys could play. On the long drive home, he looked out the window at the desert and cried. When he made the team the following year, he captained it to a gold medal.
"I think it's good for kids to face controversy or challenges," Josh says now. "I'm probably the most competitive person I know. And I would cry when I lose. To this day I'm still very competitive, but I've learned to handle myself better. Whether I win or lose, I can keep my emotions in check."
Having a talented older brother also helped. Jay, now a sophomore point guard at UNLV, never went easy on his younger brother in pickup games. When they weren't hosting dunk contests on eight-foot rims in the driveway, more competitive matchups would often end in clenched fists or red eyes. But Jay helped clear each new basketball trail for Josh. And when he came back from a summer of AAU basketball in America in 2012, Josh knew he'd found a future for both of them.
When Delmas was offered a job in Arizona, he and Cahla weren't sure if Josh would want to move. He was making a name for himself in basketball and in Australian rules football, where he'd become the No. 1 prospect in his age group and had already enrolled in the youth club for a pro team, the GWS Giants. But for Josh, the decision was simple. "I was like, let's leave next week," Josh says. "I love America. I like gear and shoes, and you can get everything so much cheaper [in the U.S]. And, of course, almost all people who play basketball in Australia want to come to America."
In Australia, he'd attended The King's School, a private academy in Parramatta, and had to wear a shirt and tie. But in public school in Phoenix, he had no restrictions. "Having no uniform might have been the biggest adjustment," he jokes, "but I got to start showing off my style." Soon he had switched from the tight shorts that dominate Australian hoops to the looser American look and started his kicks collection, which now includes Guccis, Nike Air Max 97s and a couple of pairs of Yeezys.
He spent hours on social media, learning everything he could about tournaments and camps and clinics. And when he began attending them—the John Lucas Elite Invitational in Houston was his first big showcase—he would pepper the other prospects with questions about where he should go next. As a sophomore, he transferred to Hillcrest Prep, an upstart academy just outside Phoenix designed to give elite basketball players a national schedule and showcase. There, Green averaged 20.1 points per game while teamed up with future No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton.
Dissatisfied with Hillcrest after a coaching change, he and his family went to visit IMG in Florida. After touring the campus and the basketball facilities, Green texted new IMG coach Sean McAloon before he boarded his flight back to Arizona and told him he'd transfer. Green had already given up his life in Australia for hoops, and now he was deciding to move across the country from his family as well.
"I was hesitant to leave my family," he says, "but I needed to make a sacrifice eventually. I was going to have to leave them in college. Why not do it a couple years before and be ahead of people when I get to the next level? I'll have a big start in front of a lot of the other freshmen."
During his 2017-18 junior season and in the offseason after, Green took flight. With an additional 10 pounds of muscle and an improved shooting stroke, the 6'6", 200-pounder steadily rose into the top 25 of his class. After standout performances at Basketball Without Borders in Los Angeles and the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon, he landed in the top 10 in July. In the summer with West Coast Elite on the AAU circuit, he teamed up with fellow 5-star and future Arizona commit Nico Mannion to form the most thrilling one-two punch in the grassroots game. In August, Green cut his list to six schools—Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Villanova, UNLV and USC—and eventually chose between the Tar Heels and Wildcats.
Green's game blends all the best parts of his past. He still has the fundamentals instilled by his mom and dad—a clean shooting stroke, a tight handle and a selfless style of play—and has blended that with the improvisational skills he picked up playing Aussie rules football and rugby. He is at his best in transition and in the open court, where he almost always seems to find a teammate for an easy bucket or the rim for a ferocious slam.
"I don't think I've coached anyone who's better in a full-court setting in 14 years," McAloon says. "I wouldn't even know who to compare him to. I think he can be a three-and-D-type kid. But he can be anything. He can handle the ball and get you into your offense. He can shoot the ball and create. He has a smoothness to him in transition, but he's vicious around the rim. I've mostly tried not to limit the dynamic aspects of his game. He's not the next anybody. He's the first Josh Green."
Green knows the comparisons to other Australian stars, especially Ben Simmons, are inevitable. And he's grateful that Simmons has helped guide him. But they are drastically different players. "The mixtapes call me the next Ben Simmons," he says. "The only problem is he's 6'11" and he's a completely different player. The only comparison is we're Australian and we're playmakers. Some of the stuff he can do I can't do, and the same thing goes the other way. The way I play—I don't really see too many comparisons. I feel like I'm my own self. I don't play like anyone else."
His thrilling summer came to an unexpectedly early end when he tore his labrum in July. But he doesn't expect to miss any of IMG's season, and he's eager to give Arizona fans an early look at what they'll be able to expect from him in the 2019-20 season. Sean Miller was one of the first coaches to offer Green a spot, and he is ready to pay back that early trust in his game.
"The coaches made me their priority for almost three years," says Green, who believes his game will adapt quickly to the Wildcats' playbook. "The way Arizona plays really fits me, and that will show. They play great in transition. Defensively, they play a lot of man-to-man, and I take pride in not letting people score on me. My versatility in their lineup will be good. I can play 1-2-3, and on defense I can go all the way out to the 4 on offense."
Green says that being close to family wasn't the biggest factor in his choice, but he admits he's looking forward to it. Jay will be a six-hour drive away at UNLV, and his younger siblings, Ky and Maya, will be just two hours from him in Phoenix. "My mom and dad are going to come out to all my games," he says. "It'll boost me. Seeing their faces in the crowd will be the best motivation. Everything is in my reach."
When he flies back across the country next summer, he'll be returning to where his journey in America began. Only this time, there will thousands of fans eager for his arrival.