By Harlan Nemerofsky
With less than a minute to go in the third quarter, Ryerson’s Kadeem Green hustled back on defence. Trailing 54-53, a Windsor forward dribbled the ball up the court and after two quick passes, found a wide-open player under the basket.
That player was Lien Phillip, a 2013 All-Canadian and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) West division MVP. He was a foot away from the bucket and without hesitation Phillip attempted the routine layup.
But just as the shot went up, 6-foot-9 Green leapt into the air, his right arm extending at a 45-degree angle. The ball nicked Green’s fingertips and the easy scoring chance was swatted away.
After two years of playing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Green has become a mainstay for the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team. In his first nine games with the Rams, he ranks in the top 10 in the province with 7.8 rebounds and one blocked shot per game.
Though the grass has never smelled greener for the third-year forward, it wasn’t long ago that Green’s future looked bleak.
While finishing up high school basketball at United Faith Christian Academy (UFCA) in Charlotte, N.C., Green tore his Achilles tendon, costing him a year of playing pro basketball. To this day, Green says that was the hardest challenge he ever dealt with in his basketball career.
“It took a big toll on me since I was very emotional at the time,” said Green. “It mentally challenged me, since I was just trying to get good enough so I could play NCAA basketball. I thought it might be a major setback.”
Earlier that season, Green had been labelled the fifty-eighth ranked high school prospect by sports giant ESPN, establishing his low-post game and having played against the likes of current NBA all-star John Wall at UFCA.
“Playing against John was an experience to remember and probably something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Green. “He was just so fast, the way he dribbled the ball. I’m not surprised where he’s at today.”
Though playing against Wall was among his high points, the recovery wasn’t.
Green says that the therapy process was intense; having to work on lower body exercises five days a week, on treadmills, elliptical and other weight machines, with a nagging foot.
But Green would be just fine. In September of 2011 he was playing Division I basketball with the Missouri Tigers before transferring the following year to Ohio University.
Though injuries were no longer an issue, getting the proper minutes became a cause for concern, according to former Bobcat teammate and roommate, Treg Setty.
“Kedeem was in a tough situation because there were four players that were ahead of him that [played] his position and…he had to battle of them,” said the 6-foot-9 Setty. “He definitely played well when he got the chance but he wasn’t necessarily given as much opportunity as he would have liked.”
Maurice Ndour, Wadly Mompremier, Jon Smith and Antonio Green were those four forwards on the depth chart, limiting Green to just five minutes on the floor per game as a Bobcat.
After season’s end, it was clear that NCAA basketball wasn’t working out for the Canadian who had averaged less than three points per game there. A combination of that and missing his parents, led him to move back to the Toronto area where he grew up, to play with the Rams.
“He was dealt a tough deck of cards. But it shows his character, having persevered through that and being as successful as he is right now,” said Setty.
After Green came home, he wanted to continue playing pro basketball, but he said that the decision about where to play was a difficult one. It came down to York University or Ryerson, the top two basketball universities in Toronto; based on his prior relationship with Rams head coach Roy Rana, he chose Ryerson.
“I knew Kadeem since he was a very young kid- since he went to Vaughan Secondary School and since he left for the United States,” said Rana. “And I was tracking him at that point in time, just watching his work and development.”
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Green to join the Rams.
Seeing that Rana had just lost his top forward to graduation this off-season, Green was just the kind of player Rana was looking for: tall, lanky and defensive-minded.
“We lost Nem [Stankovic], who was our big guy last year, so we wanted to fill those spots on our front court,” said Rana. “I knew Kedeem for a long time so I knew I didn’t have to see him a lot to know that he’d be a great addition to our program.”
Since joining the Rams, the Markham, Ont., native has flourished, where he’s averaged a career-high 24.4 minutes per game.
But even so, it hasn’t been all roses for Green, as he’s had to make adjustments coming to Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) from the NCAA
“There are different rules when it comes to footwork, which is why I get called with lots of travels,” said Green. “I’m just trying to play at a faster pace and make more aggressive moves as a result of the game speed.”
He also said that in the CIS there is more of a shoot-first mentality and that the overall game is more physical, with more of a focus on one-on-one matchups versus team matchups.
“In the NCAA, they don’t really make adjustments for the individual, they focus more on the team,” said Green. “In the NCAA, we have a lot more time to prepare before each game, whereas now we don’t have as much time.”
But so far, Green’s faired pretty well making that adjustment, says former OUA East division all-star and teammate Aaron Best, who said that there weren’t “any notable differences.”
“He’s definitely been a presence on both ends of the floor,” said Best. “It’s definitely been very good playing with him just because defensively you know you have a presence with him and Bjorn Michaelsen back there. On the other end, offensive rebounding is definitely one of his gifts as a basketball player because he’s so athletic and once he jumps he’s pretty much the only one above the rim once the rebound goes up.”
And it’s not just Best who has marvelled about Green’s extraordinary length.
“It freaks me out just how long he is,” said fifth-year guard Yannick Walcott. “He’s long, he’s athletic, and he’s willing to do the dirty work [for us].”
As for Rana, the head coach said that it’s just a matter of time before Green’s play puts him in a league of his own.
“As he begins to become more comfortable and as he continues to work on his development, I think he can become, head and shoulders, one of the best big men in the league,” said Rana.
“We know we’re going to have to have some patience with him but he’s fit in perfectly great right off the bat.”