COLUMBIA — Phil Pressey was frustrated. A broken bone in his hand was keeping him on the bench for one of Missouri’s biggest games of the season. As he watched his teammates take on Illinois, he turned to Kadeem Green to explain how much he wished he could play. Green knows the feeling as well as anyone.
“I told him I’ve been there for almost a year now,” Green said.
No. 9 Missouri Tigers (14-1)
at Colorado Buffaloes (11-4)
WHEN: 12:47 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: Coors Event Center, Boulder, Colo.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ/96.7 FM
TV: KMIZ/Channel 17
Missouri has won eight consecutive games in the series, but will face a new-look from the Buffaloes under first year coach Tad Boyle.
Green, still recovering from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, plans to redshirt this season for the Missouri men’s basketball team. The bizarre injury has tethered him to the sideline for a year, and his time on the bench will continue until the beginning of next season unless certain circumstances arise. The longer he waits, the more his desire to return grows.
“It’s a crazy feeling, knowing that you can go out there and help the team. But you can’t do anything about it, just sit there and watch,” Green said.
Green had played only 15 games of his senior season at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, N.C., when he completely tore his Achilles’ tendon in his left leg at a team practice in January of 2010. Surgery followed soon after, and he spent the rest of his senior season watching.
He watched as his teammates earned their second consecutive state championship. He had been a solid contributor to the North Carolina Independent Schools Class A championship his junior year, averaging 11 points and seven rebounds. He was stepping into an even bigger role his senior season, averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds before the injury.
At first, he thought someone kicked him. He turned around, but no one was there. Then came the pain.
“It actually felt like someone hit me in the back of my Achilles’ with a sledgehammer,” Green said.
The injury was uncommon, occurring more often in middle-aged men playing pickup basketball than in young athletes in their prime. Green said doctors found no prior problems or conditions that led to the tear.
“They said it was rare for someone to be so young,” he said.
He sat on a folding chair inside an empty media room, explaining the issue that is keeping him off the court. His long, thin arms rest on the knees of his stick-figure-thin legs. His bony, 6-foot-8 frame spreads into the seats next to him, requiring more room than the reporters who usually occupy the row.
He could be bitter, but he has an ability to see the big picture. Actually, it’s the reason he got to Missouri in the first place.
Green was 17 years old when he left his home and his family in Toronto, and moved to Charlotte to play for the United Faith Falcons and coach Shaun Wiseman. Playing high school basketball in the United States made him more visible as a recruit for American colleges.
"The average 17-year-old wouldn’t take the risk to do that. They wouldn’t want to be so far away from their family,” Green said.
Already used to life away from home, the transition to college was easy.
“There’s a lot of people that I talk to right now that are freshmen on campus. They always talk about how they miss their family and stuff. They’re not used to their parents not being around and stuff like that. I’m two years ahead of them,” Green said.
Almost every day, he calls or sends a text message to his family. He calls his mom the most. He won’t be able to see his mother, father, brother or two sisters until this summer. A $200 plane ticket home for his two-day holiday break was too much money for too little time.
He understands that time spent away from his family led to his current opportunity.
“At the end of the day, it was worth it because I’m here right now on scholarship doing what I want to do," Green said.
The scholarship makes waiting to play that much harder.
His soft-spoken voice explains the frustration of his wait. He wants to prove that he deserves the scholarship. Proof comes in the form of games.
His seriousness fades, and a smile takes its place when he is asked what people should expect from him when he is healthy.
“Dunks, man,” he said, quickly adding “blocked shots” and “rebounds” after a pause, echoing the same skills that Missouri coach Mike Anderson talks about when he describes what he sees in Green.
“He’s long. He’s athletic. He’s got some versatility, and he’s got a lot of upside. You can see there’s potential there,” Anderson said.
Anderson saw enough potential to offer a scholarship to an injured player.
But, for now, Green is not ready. The explosiveness in his injured leg has not returned. At the beginning of the season, Anderson and Green had a discussion. The coach didn’t want him to waste a year of eligibility. It was time to consider a medical redshirt.
“At first I didn’t want to do it,” Green said.
“But it makes sense. What’s the point of me not redshirting if I’m not going to play? I said to myself, I might as well redshirt this year, get my foot better, get my foot right.”
Anderson said the decision to redshirt a player can often “mess with his head.” With no games, practices take on a more important role.
“He’s got to treat practice like games. With that mindset, I think he’s more eager to go out and prove himself each and every day,” Anderson said.
Green practices with his teammates, helping them prepare for their next game as he prepares for next season. Bright glimpses of his potential can be seen though the shadow of his injury.
Sometimes he looks like a player who hasn’t played a real game in a year. He will pass up an open shot, sending the ball to a teammate instead. Sometimes he trails on a fast break, unable to fully push off his left foot.
But, other times he decides to take the open shot, showing his range from the 3-point line. Watching his 7-foot-1 wingspan unfold while he plays defense sparks images of the blocked shots and deflections Anderson’s teams thrive on.
As Missouri’s Big 12 Conference games begin, Green will continue to sit in his usual spot toward the end of the bench. His jersey will be on underneath his black and white warmup shirt. If injuries deplete the number of available players, Anderson might need Green to enter a game. John Underwood recently left the team to be closer to his family in Phoenix, increasing the chance that Green might be asked to play.
Ideally, Green will be able to sit out, and have four full seasons after this one, finally getting an opportunity to show why he deserves a spot on the team. But, if he is needed this season, he has no hesitation about playing. At this point, any game sounds like a good game.
Either way, for the time being, his wait continues.