Draymond Green Is Growing. But Some Things Never Change.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Tom Izzo, the men’s basketball coach at Michigan State, was in his office sharing stories about Draymond Green. Stories about the practices when Green would get so angry that he would punt the ball off the ceiling. About the halftime speeches that Izzo never asked Green to deliver. About the clipboards that Izzo smashed and the games that Green helped win and the friendship they built.

“Even as he gets older,” Izzo said, “he’s never forgotten where he came from.”

Just then, as if on cue, Green’s hulking figure appeared in Izzo’s doorway. Green, a forward with the Golden State Warriors, was back on campus Tuesday to have his college number retired that night, and as he and Izzo hugged, Green complained about the cold weather.

“You’re getting soft, man!” Izzo said. “You look great. How are things?”

“I’m in and out of the lineup, but it’s O.K.,” Green said. “I’m only playing like 20 minutes a game. They’ve got me on a minutes restriction because of my heel. Trying to get that right.”

“You’re not turning into one of those ‘load management’ guys, are you?” Izzo asked.

“Nah,” said Green, who sounded almost sheepish about his modest workload.

Green told Izzo that he was heading over to the practice court for a workout, just like the old days. But he also had a big night ahead of him. The ceremony was scheduled for halftime of Michigan State’s game against Duke, and Green had requested a preposterous number of tickets for family and friends.

“I think he thought we were going to play this game at the football stadium,” Izzo said.

It was an emotional homecoming for Green, 29, who reminisced about growing up in nearby Saginaw with dreams of playing for Michigan State. The university changed him, transformed him, he said, his time there defined above all by his relationship with Izzo, whose primary mode of communication was tough love. Green described the coach as a friend and a father figure.

“You come in as a freshman, and you’re like, ‘Why is this guy so tough on me?’” Green recalled. “It’s like, ‘Can’t you settle down a little?’ But then you realize the reason he’s on you so tough: He always says: ‘I’m one of the few people in life that’s actually been able to live out their dream. I want the same thing for you.’”

About an hour after the Warriors’ 104-79 loss to the Hawks on Monday night, Green had boarded a private plane in Atlanta that was bound for Michigan. He was joined by his fiancée, their two children and a few friends from the Warriors, including Coach Steve Kerr, who sipped a beer, and D’Angelo Russell, a teammate who spent the first half of the flight studying game film on his laptop. Green uncorked a bottle of red wine and offered generous pours.

“Welcome to the great state of Michigan!” Green shouted as Russell rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

Since leaving Michigan State, Green has won three N.B.A. championships and an Olympic gold medal. He recently signed a $100 million contract extension. He vacations in France and spends his summers in Southern California. His fiancée, Hazel Renee, had a recurring role on the television show “Empire.” LeBron James has become one of his pals.

But back when Green enrolled at Michigan State, he was pudgy after spraining his ankle as a high school senior — “I called him my Pillsbury Dough Boy,” Izzo recalled — and played sparingly as a freshman. Sometimes, he did not play at all. After Green failed to shed his warm-ups during a win at Ohio State, he cried on the bus back to East Lansing.

“I’m not sure I even envisioned him starting,” Izzo said. “It was definitely a process, and he was kind of old school in that sense. He got better with his body, got better with his game, got better with his intelligence. He just kept getting better, which is part of what made it so rewarding.”

Izzo lamented how people these days seem to lack patience — not just in college basketball, but in every pursuit. Instant success. Quick rewards. Immediate results. Green was none of those things. His development was a slow build. He worked hard for four years and absorbed the lessons that the coaching staff offered him.

“You realized that this was a guy who probably wanted me to be successful more than I even wanted to be successful,” Green said of Izzo. “Like, as much as you say, ‘I want to do this,’ and, ‘I want to do that,’ very rarely are you going to do everything that it takes to get there without any guidance.”

By the end of his college career, Green was the Big Ten Conference’s player of the year, Michigan State’s all-time leading rebounder and one of the most beloved figures in the history of the program. He went through various rough patches with his coach, but they were kindred spirits.

And while Green has been critical of the N.C.A.A., arguing in support of recent legislation that would permit college athletes to reap financial benefits from the use of their names and likenesses, he has maintained strong ties to Michigan State. In 2015, he donated $3.1 million to the athletic department, part of which went to finance the construction of the Draymond Green Strength and Conditioning Center. The old weight room was a dump, Green said. When he saw the new one for the first time, he brought his son, Draymond Jr.

“I don’t see my name up there,” Green said. “I see my son’s name, and that means everything to me.”


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