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'I Was off the Map': 1-on-1 with Trailblazing NBA Draft Prospect Jalen Green

Farbod EsnaashariFeatured Columnist IMay 27, 2021

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

What's going on with Jalen Green?

That's the question the elite 2021 NBA draft prospect knew he'd eventually hear when he decided to forgo college basketball and go straight to the NBA G League. The decision to join the G League's experimental Ignite team—consisting of 18-year-old prospects looking for a professional path to the NBA—was considered bold and groundbreaking. It was a bet on the NBA G League's improved infrastructure and competition level, but not without risks to his draft stock. 

The G League's visibility still doesn't compare to elite men's college basketball and what the NCAA tournament can do for a prospect's brand. NBA scouts and executives have been conditioned to view high-level college basketball as the best training ground for the NBA, and the G League is still in its infancy as a viable option for highly touted 18-year-olds. 

The risk was obvious: out of sight, out of mind.

But Green has no regrets—and why should he? Despite flying under the radar for the past six months, outside the first few hyped weeks of the G League's bubble experiment, he's still a projected top-three pick who has a shoe deal with Adidas basketball. 

Beyond that, the experience helped him learn how to handle his money, deal with an NBA schedule and grow up on his own during an eight-month bubble adventure. 

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Would he recommend others to follow in his footsteps?

"I would say to, for sure, do it," Green told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview Wednesday. "If their goal is to get to the NBA and they're one of the top kids in the country, I would say for sure. You're going to pick up on things early, you're going to be ahead of schedule, you're just going to learn how to be an overall pro. This year was the first year (of the G League Ignite), so I'm sure the next years are going to get better and better."

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

At age 19, Green and teammates Jonathan Kuminga and Daishen Nix had the opportunity to be coached by three-time NBA champion Brian Shaw and get advice from longtime NBA veterans and G League Ignite teammates Jarrett Jack and Bobby Brown. Shaw would tell them stories about Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal while teaching principles of the famed triangle offense.

The result of Green's trailblazing path is the chance to become the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, although Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham might have something to say about that. 

Throughout the G League bubble, the idea of being drafted No. 1 provided extra incentive.

"For me, it's like a motivation thing," Green said. "Just because, at first I wasn't even talked about going No. 1 because of the route I took. It was different, and I was off the map for a little bit. Even after the bubble, they still were talking about that. Just seeing that now is more motivation. 

"I feel like that's where I should have been. It's a dream come true for sure; it does give me butterflies. It makes my people happy. It makes me happy. It's just crazy to see."

Bleacher Report's draft expert Jonathan Wasserman currently has Green as his No. 2 overall prospect, behind Cunningham. In a breakdown comparing him with projected top-five pick Jalen Suggs, Wasserman discussed how Green's play in the G League bubble erased legitimate doubts, in part due to its professional-level competition. 

"I may have overlooked just how sharp, advanced and efficient he was executing against current/former pros and recent draft picks,” Wasserman wrote. "Special athleticism has always been his signature, specifically ridiculous quickness off the bounce and explosive leaping at the rim. But Green's shot-creation and shot-making have developed into legitimate strengths."

More than anything, Green, a 6'6" guard, believes he should be the top pick because of his work ethic.

"I didn't really start paying attention to it until after the bubble," Green said. "I just felt like I should be No. 1 because I work harder than a lot of the dudes in my class. That's the only reason. It's not something that could have been or should have been; it's just because I work harder."

In the bubble, Green dedicated himself to studying film. He's spent time watching Michael Jordan and Kobe as well as today's stars such as Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine, who he thinks constitute apt comparisons for his game. 

Green's dedication to his craft not only made him a top-three prospect but also netted him a coveted partnership with Adidas, the brand he always wore as a kid. In high school, he played in the brand's Prolific Prep jersey and played in Adidas Gauntlet basketball events. He lit up when he talked about seeing his favorite Adidas athlete growing up, Derrick Rose. Adidas has always been a part of Green's life, both as an apparel and as a basketball home—it's a perfect union to him.

     

How was your experience playing in the G League Ignite?

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

I think it was overall a great experience. I learned a lot, I learned how to be a pro early. I was put in a pro setting. Improved my pro habits on and off the court. I feel I just got overall better. The young guys that were there got overall better too. It was just a great experience overall.

     

What were the pro habits you learned?

On the court, knowing where to be, knowing the spots, knowing what to say, offense. Off the court, how to handle your money, how to balance your schedule, and how to grow up and be on your own because you're in a bubble for eight months.

     

Did you have a specific vet or role model?

I think all the vets were pretty good at that; everyone took us under their wing. The two that I really talked to a lot for information were probably Bobby Brown and Jarrett Jack.

     

After finishing a season, would you recommend it to high school athletes?

I would for sure do it. If their goal is to get to the NBA and they're one of the top kids in the country, I would say for sure. You're going to pick up on things early, you're going to be ahead of schedule, you're just going to learn how to be an overall pro. This year was the first year, so I'm sure the next years are going to get better and better. I had a good time in my first year. 

      

What did college athletes say to you about joining the Ignite?

I think everyone pretty much enjoyed their own path and journey. Obviously, we stay in contact, and guys ask me what it's like. It's never bad or questioning the path. 

     

What did you learn from Brian Shaw, a player who played with Kobe and won multiple championships?

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

I think I learned a lot from B-Shaw. We were playing in the triangle offense, so that was an offense with a lot of vets put in. So that was cool learning that. I just got to pick his brain a lot about Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird and Shaq. We watched a lot of film. B-Shaw helped me a lot.

      

What was your favorite B-Shaw story of Kobe?

I forgot how it went. Paul George was playing Kobe Bryant for the first time. B-Shaw went to Kobe and said, 'my young boy is gonna get on you. He's gonna kill you.' Kobe came down and was killing him the whole game! 

     

What does it mean to you to see sites projecting you at No. 1?

It's a crazy feeling. A dream come true. Everyone wants to go No. 1 in the draft. For me, it's like a motivation thing. Just because, at first I wasn't even talked about going on because of the route I took. It was different and I was off the map for a little bit. Even after the bubble, they still were talking about that. Just seeing that now is more motivation, I feel like that's where I should have been. It's a dream come true for sure; it does give me butterflies. It makes my people happy, it makes me happy, it's just crazy to see.

I didn't really start paying attention to it until after the bubble. I just felt like I should be No. 1 because I work harder than a lot of the dudes in my class. That's the only reason. It's not something that could have been or should have been; it's just because I work harder.

      

What were your favorite teams growing up?

Growing up in Fresno, I was a Heat fan. My half-brother was a Heat fan; he had all the Heat hats and stuff like that. I became a Heat fan after that. Plus on top of that, I always looked up to D-Wade. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, all the greats I've looked up to for sure. 

     

Is there a player you can't wait to play against?

Everybody. I don't have a certain one. I just want to play. I've got a taste of the bubble and it was fun. I just can't wait to start playing again.

     

How do you feel like your style fits with the Adidas brand?

I like fashion; their lifestyle is very fit and it's got color, drip and it's comfy. You can switch it up. I feel like that with that sense, I feel like I'm bringing my sense of style and drip to Adidas, and we could just come together. On the court, I've always hooped in Adidas. My sophomore year I played EBO, I was under the gauntlet. I went to Prolific Prep my senior year, so I'm familiar with all their hoop kicks.

     

Is there anything you think give the brand that they were missing?

I don't know if Adidas is missing anything; I think Adidas is lit. I feel like I'm bringing a loud swag to Adidas. On the court, I'm like a dog, aggressive; I get to the rim and I can shoot. I just feel like I'm bringing a different type of swag on the court and obviously some drip off the court.

     

Do you have a favorite Adidas athlete you wanted to be like growing up?

I like Derrick Rose. I got to meet Derrick Rose when I went on my USC visit. He's a cool dude. Derrick Rose, for sure.

     

How much pride do you take in being of Filipino descent? It was said you'd be interested in representing them at some point.

It means everything. I know there's not really a lot of Filipino hoopers that's in the NBA. The fact that I can go out and represent the country, plus my mom is Filipino and her side of the family has Filipino in them. I think I have some Filipino family in the Philippines, but I didn't get a chance to meet them. I think it's super cool that I could do that, and that I could say that I'm Filipino. They love basketball out there, they're diehard basketball fans. They go crazy over basketball and show a lot of love and support. The fact that I can reach out to them and touch them in multiple ways is cool.

      

Have any Filipino youth reached out to you as an inspiration?

I've heard and seen messages in my DMs. I've had family friends tell me that me playing basketball inspired them because they're Filipino. I think it's super cool that I can even do that, by just playing the game that I love. 

     

What would it mean to you to be one of the only Filipino players in the NBA? 

(editor's note: Jordan Clarkson is currently the only other player of Filipino descent in the NBA)

I think it would be awesome. That's something I could live by. I know that I'm eventually going to go back to the Philippines and show love out there. 

     

Is there anything you'd want to say to the Asian community that you're an inspiration to? It's not often someone of Filipino descent is a nationally top ranked prospect.

I love the Philippines, and for all the little kids that hoop, keep working. 

      

Anything you want NBA fans to know about you that they don't already?

I like to dance. I like music. I like Italian food. Pasta is my favorite. My favorite rapper is Lil Baby, Dirt, Gunna. Those are my top three right now. I'm aggressive and mean on the court, but off the court, I'm very funny, outgoing and goofy. It's going to be a good time always.

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