WINDING ROAD TAKES TURN THROUGH HATTIESBURG
New Southern Mississippi basketball coach James Green calls the late Jessie Rye of Ingomar a famous math teacher in Union County.
Rye was one of the reasons why Green taught algebra and geometry in the early years of his coaching career. She is also high on a list of people in Union County who are important to the new head coach. It is a long list. I could do this whole column naming the names he named.
Also on that list is Ingomar High School coach Norris Ashley, who like Green is a product of Jessie Rye’s schooling, and who taught him a lot of his concepts of basketball.
It’s been a long road to Hattiesburg from the time when Green, as a seventh grader, decided not to go to basketball practice and Ashley brought him back to the gym.
“He told me I was going to do something there,” Green said. “I could clean the bathroom or play basketball. You can guess which one I took.”
I get the feeling if Green had taken the other option, that would have been the cleanest gym bathroom in the South.
Green has a reputation of being a hard worker, and it has paid off. It has made him one of the top recruiters in college basketball. Ashley said Green’s work ethic will help him become a good head coach.
“There are a lot of good recruiters who can’t coach worth a lick,” Ashley said. “Green will be a success there.”
Green showed that coaching ability early on. When he took over as a green coach, pun intended, at Jim Hill High School in Jackson, he turned a virtual non-program into one that was competing with the big players, like Murrah.
It showed when he took his first college job at Idaho as an assistant under Tim Floyd, and convinced former New Albany and Northeast Mississippi Community College star guard David Foote to come to Moscow, Idaho.
That was the start of Green’s reputation for attracting major talent, especially from Mississippi. Most notable for him was signing Antonio McDyess and Eric Washington to Alabama out of the same class that included Ronnie Henderson (LSU), Jesse Pate (Arkansas), Damien Smith (Southern Mississippi) and Erick Dampier (Mississippi State).
Green mused for a second: What if one team had got them all? He said what he wants at Southern Mississippi is to get its share of the next great Mississippi class.
Most recently Green recruited forward Stevie Johnson of Perry Central to Iowa State, which has set back-to-back school records for wins under Floyd with Green as a recruiter.
“It may take us a couple years to get that kind of player,” Green said.
He thinks he has all the ingredients in place to make it happen, not the least being in Conference USA with Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette.
Green has hit the ground running. He hasn’t taken much time to pause for much of anything, including interviews in his first few weeks on the job, though he did take some time to talk about Union County.
When he was summoned from the Final Four for the final interview, Green stayed with a Union County friend Millsaps basketball coach John Stroud while awaiting word on the USM job.
Green is trying to cover a lot of ground, but he’s been doing that his entire coaching career. His is a typical coach’s odyssey. First he went with Floyd to Idaho, then with Kermit Davis Jr. to Texas A&M. Davis returned to Idaho just a few weeks before Green was hired by Southern to replace M.K. Turk. From Texas A&M Green went to Alabama, to Iowa State, and then back to Mississippi.
Green is the first black basketball coach at Southern Mississippi. He said he would mention that only because he feels that “some of our black youth don’t understand the opportunity that’s there if you are willing to work for it.”
Mike Talbert is a sports writer for the Daily Journal.