Papa John Hits the Road Back...Again

John Green (Photo by Tony Mastres)
John Green (Photo by Tony Mastres)

September 13, 2012 6:18 AM

John Green got a strange look the other day when he asked UCSB roommate T.J. Taylor, "Want to go for a run?"

Like nothing had happened.

Green showed up early for Tuesday's basketball practice and went to a side basket to work on his spin move.

Like nothing had happened.

But two weeks ago, something did happen to the heir apparent to Orlando Johnson's scoring throne. Something bad. For the third time in 14 months.

Green, a highly recruited 6-foot-5 guard, fractured his left foot in the same spot where he'd broken it last fall. It was the same break that had occurred in his right foot during the summer of 2011.

He launched himself for a layup during a recent practice and heard a sickeningly familiar sound when he landed.

"I didn't want to believe it," said Green, a 20-year-old redshirt freshman. "I went to Justin (Ericson, UCSB's trainer) right away and said, 'My foot popped, and I think I might have refractured it.'

"The look on his face was, 'It couldn't be. ... It couldn't happen again.'"

But it did, and it put a chill into the Thunderdome that has yet to dissipate.

"I really like the guys I've got, but right now I've got to get over the John Green thing," coach Bob Williams conceded. "Mike Bryson has looked really good, and he's up for the challenge. ... But you're losing a kid who was probably going to be your leading scorer, and so that changes things."

The high-flying Gaucho's future is now the biggest thing that's been left up in the air at the Thunderdome. Green will visit a foot specialist in Los Angeles on Monday to figure out the next step with the break as well as with the high arches in both feet.

"They want to see if they should do surgery on them on Tuesday, or just take out the pin in the one foot and put in a new one ... or even put new bone into it," Green said.

He knows what's at stake, but there are times when his roommates begin to wonder.

"He asks T.J. to go on a run, and we've got to tell him, 'John, you can't run,'" sophomore Alan Williams said. "He wants to stay active, go for a walk, jump rope. ... We've almost got to strap him down to his bed."

Green, Taylor and Williams are so inseparable that their teammates have resorted to calling them "The Three Amigos." They have reserved another name just for Green, an Oakland schoolboy star who delayed the start of his collegiate career by playing for a prep academy in Arizona:

"We call him Papa John to get a smile out of him," Taylor said. "He laughs it off, but it's serious now. He's going to be a 21-year-old freshman next year ... a triple-redshirt."

Taylor, a point guard, and Williams, a center, both started on last year's 20-win team. Green was to fill the void that Johnson left when he was drafted in June by the NBA's Indiana Pacers.

He gave the Gauchos a preview of that last season when his team-high 17 points and nine rebounds led them to an exhibition win over San Francisco State.

That was followed a few nights later by the horrifying sight of Green crawling off the court in agony after having fractured his foot during the season-opener against Chapman.

"I couldn't get up, I couldn't walk," he recalled. "I was in a lot of pain."

Green's roommates have now felt it three times over.

"It's really tough for me because I grew up watching John play AAU ball in Oakland and transform into the great player that he is now," Taylor said. "It hurts a lot, to know what he's capable of doing ... but it's not just that.

"He's a really good guy - a humble guy, a really hard worker, a great friend ... and a brother, really. It's hard not to take this personally."

They try not to talk too much basketball around Green at their Isla Vista apartment.

"It probably gets to him, but you never see that," Alan Williams said. "He doesn't let us see it. If he's hurting, he doesn't let us know. He doesn't get sad around us."

Taylor said he'll occasionally see "a glimpse of it in his face, the pain of not getting to be out there with us on the court ... but it's surprising how strong he's stayed."

Green said he's not in denial about his condition, even as he drags a boot around the basketball court. He said he can't forget the nine months he spent rehabilitating his left foot before breaking it again this month.

"You can ask the coaches and everybody else, I really worked hard with that," he said. "I looked forward to playing this season ... This new setback is really tough, but I'm trying to hang in there and be positive about it again.

"It's just another test. The third one really hurts the most, but I'm trying to stay positive."

He keeps his spirits up by reading the Bible, listening to music and watching funny movies. And then there are the other two Amigos.

"They're always joking around and making sure I keep a smile on my face," Green said.

His parents, Sheila and Reggie, have done their parts, as well.

"My mom, she calls all the time to make sure my spirits are up and lively," he said. "My dad talks to me about other players who made to the NBA after going through this type of thing."

He'd planned to head home to Oakland after today's geography final. The doctor's appointment has forced him to change those plans. Green has had to stay light on his feet, especially now that he's got a boot on one of them.

"He's one of the strongest people I know," Alan Williams said. "He loves this game, and he's not going to give up. He didn't give up the second time, and he's showing his strong character now this third time around.

"He's still out there, doing his push-ups and his sit-ups. ... He's still working hard."

And thinking about the day he's running around with the roomies again.