Little Man Comes Up Big For UMBC
CATONSVILLE, Md. – Jay Greene has been the “little guy” his whole life. He’s always been viewed that way, with his size defining him to outsiders. When it comes to basketball, a game where size often matters, his size defines him to some even more so.
But a better description of him might be “the little engine that could.” The 5’8″ junior point guard is a prime reason that UMBC – fittingly, a “little guy” in college basketball as a member of the America East Conference – is off to the NCAA Tournament for the first time as a member of Division I, as Greene was the MVP of the America East Conference tournament.
“You look at him, you look at his stature and you say, I don’t know if he can get it done,” said UMBC head coach Randy Monroe. “I’ve had people tell me that. But people know now that Jason Greene is one of the top guards around.”
The middle child of three boys, Greene hails from Whitehall Township, a small suburb just north of Allentown in Pennsylvania and not far from the campus of Lehigh University. The town is less than 13 square miles in land area and has a population of about 25,000. He’s not the first notable athlete to come from there, as New England Patriots center Dan Koppen and former NFL linebacker Matt Millen both hail from there. It’s also in an area that has produced a few Division I players over the years.
When recruiting Greene, Monroe saw the same things that are apparent now. He saw Greene’s ability to make teammates better, he saw that he knows how to win, and also that he can score. If anyone thought Greene was simply a passer and not one who gives the ball away (he had an 8.3 assist/turnover ratio in the America East Tournament and has a 3.6 ratio for the season), he reminded them of his scoring ability in Saturday’s championship game by going 4-6 from long range.
Most of all, Monroe saw that Greene’s stature doesn’t tell the whole story at all. It may be a cliché with players of his size, but Greene is short in stature only and is a warrior with the heart of a lion.
“We often have a nickname for him, ‘Little Scrappy’, and that’s what he is because he finds a way to get it done,” said Monroe. “He is one tough hombre. If I’m going to go to war and be in the foxhole, I’m going to have Jay Greene with me.”
Because of his competitive nature, Greene is perhaps the perfect player to run the team for Monroe, who is very intense on the bench. Monroe is often animated on the sidelines during games, while Greene has the look of a calm, cool and collected leader on the floor. But as with his height, don’t mistake the lack of an obvious game face for a lack of desire. He shows it with his play.
He showed some potential in his first season on the team, then had a better sophomore year. This season, with a few more scoring options, Greene broke loose, leading the conference in assists by a wide margin and shooting nearly 42 percent from long range. Greene facilitated an offense with four double-digit scorers and two sophomores off the bench who are capable of doing that one day. Included in that group are three much-heralded transfers, as well as a player who’s been in the program since Monroe was the head coach in senior Brian Hodges.
With his play this year, Greene was named a First Team All-America East player, and deservingly so. As good as his teammates have been, Greene has been at the nerve center of it all and made everything work. He was certainly deserving of being the conference’s tournament’s MVP. It’s the end result of a journey that’s seen the conference’s smallest player come up big on one of the biggest stages.
“All his life, he’s had to fight and prove people wrong,” said Monroe. “I think there are a lot of people seeing it not only here at UMBC’s RAC Arena, but people around the world had a chance to see one of the best point guards around. He finds a way to make his team better, he finds a way to make players on his team better.”
And when it was all over, Greene didn’t celebrate small; in fact, he leaped right onto the press row table in front of this writer. The viewing audience saw how good he is, and they saw him celebrate the end result.