TYLER HANSBROUGH'S FREE THROW WAS uncharacteristically short. As the ball bounced back into the key, his teammate Danny Green, though boxed out by LSU's Tasmin Mitchell, leaped above the crowded lane. His left arm entangled with Mitchell, Green used his right hand to punch the loose ball some 25 feet to an open Wayne Ellington beyond the three-point line. Ellington dribbled once and sank the three. By the time the ball fell through the net to give UNC its first lead of the second-round NCAA tournament game, Green had circled from the lane to the left corner, to the top of the key and then down to the right block, putting himself in position in case of another miss.
During the next television timeout Green's father, Danny Sr., seated in the fourth row, thumbed out a text message to a reporter who had asked him about his son before the game: "U see the tap out of the missed free throw that's a 5pt turnaround and the small things I'm talking about."
Danny Green, a 6' 6" wing player, is just as apt to direct a loose ball to an open teammate as he is to spring someone with a hard screen or to hit the big shot himself. He's the team's resident stat-stuffer, contributing across the score sheet, depending on what UNC needs on a given night—a versatility reflected by his single-game career highs: 26 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, seven blocks and six steals. For three years Green was the Tar Heels' sixth man, leading all bench players in scoring each season. Given a starting role as a senior, he increased his production in nearly every category, averaging 13.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks, and shooting 41.8% on threes.
With just under seven minutes left in the game against LSU and UNC leading by four, Green squared for an open three to the left of the key. A miss. Ellington chased down the rebound and kicked the ball back to Green, still standing in the same spot, still open. Green unloaded again. A hit. Carolina went on to an 84-70 win. The cellphone buzzed. Another text message from Danny Sr., this one reading, "That was a back breaker three and took a lot of guts to shoot."
After driving 10 hours from the Green home on Long Island to Greensboro for UNC's first two tournament games, stopping twice for roadside naps, the father clearly intended to soak up every moment of the culmination of his son's college career. An hour before the LSU tip-off he entered Greensboro Coliseum, clad head-to-toe in Carolina apparel. An usher immediately recognized him, warmly extended a hand and said how much he's enjoyed watching Danny play the last four years. It's a sentiment Danny Sr. has heard a lot recently, about how his oldest son signs his autograph for every child who asks and how well liked he is by everyone at Carolina. "This is nice," says Danny Sr., gesturing toward the UNC and LSU players warming up on the court, "and it's on TV, but it's not what I care about. It's the little things."
BASKETBALL HAD ALWAYS COME NATURALLY TO Danny Jr. By the time he was four, he could shoot and dribble with either hand when playing on a plastic hoop from Toys R Us. Even when he went swimming in the family's backyard pool, he'd pull the basket to the side of the pool and shoot from the water. Growing up, Danny had one passion: basketball. "He'd just play basketball and sleep," says his brother Rashad, who's 10 months younger than Danny. "I think that's how he grew those extra inches. He'd hibernate. All of a sudden, he was 6' 6"."
When Danny was 12, his mother left his father, Danny, Rashad and a third brother, Devonte, who was two, on their own. Nearly every night the three older Greens would play basketball in the backyard or in the Town Annex gym.
As a ninth-grader at his dad's alma mater, North Babylon (N.Y.) High, Danny played varsity and led the team in scoring. The following year he transferred to St. Mary's in Manhasset, N.Y., where he helped lead his team to a 74-5 record and three league titles. As a senior he averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocks, and was named a McDonald's All-American. At the Five-Star camp in 2004, he sprained his right wrist on the first day. Rather than pull out, he played lefthanded the rest of the week and still made the all-star team.
Like many coaching fathers, Danny Sr., a former elementary-school P.E. teacher and an assistant coach for the North Babylon High girls' team, hasn't always shared his praise with his son. "I'm probably the worst critic of my kids," he says. The son says that's no longer the case. "He was way harsher in the past," Danny says. "Now it's more constructive."
But for all the pointed suggestions Danny Sr. imparts to his sons—Rashad is a redshirt sophomore at San Francisco and Devonte, 12, plays AAU ball—he is, at his core, a proud father, prone to sending praise for his sons to anyone willing to listen. "If everyone went away for even six months," says Danny Sr., "they'd really appreciate the little things."