Green is one happy camper

Lo­cal pas­sion makes pulling up stakes eas­ier to un­pack

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - BRAYDON HOLMYARD

Danny Green was de­ter­mined to get to Toronto.

Af­ter a sum­mer storm can­celled all out­go­ing flights from New York, the 31year-old NBA vet­eran and two child­hood friends had to find an­other way to Pear­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

It had only been two weeks since Green was traded to the Toronto Rap­tors in a block­buster deal with the San An­to­nio Spurs, but this Au­gust trip was cir­cled on his cal­en­dar long be­fore he found out he would be mov­ing to Canada.

Green was some­what of an af­ter­thought in the trade which also brought star for­ward Kawhi Leonard to Toronto while send­ing fan favourite DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl out the door.

“Oh, you’re in­clud­ing me now?” Green joked at an in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence for the two new­est Rap­tors. “I was won­der­ing if I was go­ing to get to talk to­day.”

The bas­ket­ball world ob­sessed over how Leonard and DeRozan would re­act to hav­ing their worlds flipped up­side down. Kawhi was silent. DeMar was miffed. And Green? Well, he was feel­ing right at home.

Every off-sea­son for the last 10 years, Green has ven­tured north of the bor­der. But in­stead of trav­el­ling east from Pear­son into down­town, he headed for cot­tage coun­try, 15 kilo­me­tres down a windy, two-lane road on the out­skirts of Huntsville to be a guest coach at Olympia Sports Camp.

This sum­mer, as he sat in the air­port with­out a flight, Green con­tem­plated break­ing with tra­di­tion. His friends re­minded him of how much they en­joyed the get­away. The kids were ex­pect­ing him. And there was more hype than ever now that he was a Rap­tor. He knew he couldn’t let them down.

So they im­pro­vised.

“It was hec­tic man, we had to get a Ford Fo­cus,” Green said. The cozy hatch­back wasn’t the six-foot-six shoot­ing guard’s ve­hi­cle of choice. “They didn’t have many rentals. They were all sold out.”

The com­pact car took them four hours up the coast to Bos­ton, where the trio found a place to sleep be­fore catch­ing an early flight to Toronto. They ar­rived at Olympia with time to spare be­fore campers went home at week’s end.

“The kids were pretty im­pressed. That’s not some­thing most play­ers would do,” said Dave Grace, the camp’s founder and long-time di­rec­tor. “It re­ally meant a lot to me and every­one at camp, how much they went out of their way to make it hap­pen this year.”

But how did a pro­fes­sional baller from Long Is­land end up at a Cana­dian sports camp in the first place? Green’s On­tario oa­sis be­gan when he fin­ished his col­lege ca­reer at the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina and was re­cruited by Gene Banks, a former Duke bas­ket­ball star who’s been a sta­ple at the camp for over 25 years.

Sur­rounded by 100-foot pine trees and the invit­ing glow of Oxbow Lake, Green tried to get ac­cus­tomed to the in­tri­ca­cies that make Olympia unique — phys­i­cally and so­cially. The spon­ta­neous erup­tions into song. The co-or­di­nated cheesy dance moves. The ex­ces­sive group cos­tumes. It’s a place where kids — and staff — are en­cour­aged to shed their shell and be them­selves. There are no ex­pec­ta­tions, and no judg­ment. It took some get­ting used to, but Green bought in.

“At first it makes you a lit­tle un­com­fort­able. It was not some­thing I’m used to, com­ing from New York,” he said. “But af­ter that, you get adapted and ad­justed, and I fell in love with the whole en­ergy. It’s a lot of fun and gave me real in­sight on how Cana­di­ans were.”

Founded in 1974, the camp started as a one-week bas­ket­ball pro­gram. Then came foot­ball and a move to the 40-acre prop­erty near Al­go­nquin Park. While it of­fers close to 100 sports and ac­tiv­i­ties, bas­ket­ball re­mains its great­est in­vest­ment, and Green left an im­pres­sion right away.

“He al­ways par­tic­i­pated and ran the drills with us,” said Kyle Forster, who was a camper at Olympia for seven sum­mers. “He’d set it up and coach, but when the drill started, he would al­ways run it just as hard as us. He even joined the scrim­mage.”

Over the years, Green en­hanced his coach­ing pack­age from teach­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the game and tak­ing pic­tures with kids to pro­vid­ing real-life ad­vice.

Green of­ten tells the story of his hum­ble be­gin­nings in the NBA: drafted by the Cleve­land Cava­liers, waived af­ter 20 games, signed by the Spurs the fol­low­ing sea­son, then waived again six days later.

Af­ter four tough months and a stint in the G League, he found a per­ma­nent home in San An­to­nio. The na­tive of North Baby- lon — a ham­let on the south shore of Long Is­land — has tal­lied over 500 NBA games and seven full sea­sons with the Spurs. He has a cham­pi­onship ring to show for it.

“What­ever it is you want to do, just work hard,” Green said of the mes­sage he shares with the kids.

“Not ev­ery­body in this league is the most ta­lented guy in this world, but they’re able to stay in this league and make a good liv­ing for them­selves be­cause they work re­ally hard at it and per­fected cer­tain things.”

Green showed the world what per­fec­tion looked like in the 2014 NBA fi­nal. He set a record by hit­ting 23 three-point field goals as the Spurs de­feated LeBron James and his Mi­ami Heat su­per-team in five games. That sum­mer, he re­turned to Olympia for the first time as an NBA cham­pion.

“He never changed,” Kelsie McEwan said. She started at camp the same year as Green and worked there for 10 years, watch­ing him grow as a player and a per­son. “Even the sum- mer af­ter he set the NBA fi­nals record for threes, he treated the kids the ex­act same and was ex­cited and eager to work with them. He stayed hum­ble.”

This past off-sea­son, as Green made the move from south­cen­tral Texas to the north, pre­sum­ably with­out the Ford Fo­cus, it was a one-way jour­ney. Get­ting the call that your home is no longer your home can be a jar­ring ex­pe­ri­ence for any ath­lete.

As he set­tles into Toronto, Green holds onto the fact that he’s now closer to his fam­ily in New York — and his ex­tended fam­ily in Huntsville. Get­ting traded was not some­thing he sought out, but if there was an ideal des­ti­na­tion, this was it.

“When I got the call that I was traded, I said, ‘oh, that sucks,’ ” Green re­called. “Then they said it was to Toronto. I thought, well, I can’t com­plain about that one.” Those who know him from Olympia Sports Camp aren’t com­plain­ing ei­ther.

OLYMPIA SPORTS CAMP

Ex-Spur Danny Green has been in the mid­dle of things as a guest coach at a sports camp near Huntsville for a decade: “I fell in love with the whole en­ergy.”

OLYMPIA SPORTS CAMP

Danny Green has brought smiles, en­ergy and a sim­ple mes­sage — “just work hard” — to kids at the Olympia Sports Camp.

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