Rite Of Passage: Big Sid’s Boy Grows Up

Sidney Green stood in the back of the room doing his best to hold back the tears, not an easy thing to do lately. He cried last year when Florida won the NCAA championship in Indianapolis. He cried again a couple of weeks ago when the Gators beat Oregon in St. Louis to get back to the Final Four and he cried Monday night when Florida made it two straight NCAA titles by beating Ohio State.

At 6-9 and probably 280-or so pounds, Big Sid still looks like a guy that could hip check someone driving the lane into the fourth row. He made a living in the NBA for 12 years because he was so tough and so strong that nobody except the truly daft would mess with him. So here was this tough guy — a man’s man — going mushy on us Thursday afternoon and it was a beautiful thing to behold.

Big Sid couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad, a little bit proud and maybe a little bit old as his kid and the rest of the 0-Fours announced they will forego their senior years at the University of Florida to enter the NBA draft.

“I sent one kid to school and I got three more sons out of it,” said Big Sid, who’s been the dad away from home for Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer.

Big Sid was so proud of Horford, Noah and Brewer but the tug that pulled the hardest on his heart strings came from the 0-Four that everybody has doubted at every step of his college basketball career. Everybody expected Horford, Noah and Brewer to announce for the NBA Thursday. Over the last three years, they’ve erased the doubts and they’ve got LOTTERY written all over them. Horford is 6-10, 255, with an NBA body and game to match. Noah is seven feet tall and he has such a combination of skills and heart for the game that he’s worth an investment of huge dollars. Brewer has a point guard’s quickness, a power forward’s height (6-9), a small forward’s offensive range and lock-down skills on defense.

Then there is Big Sid’s kid. By announcing for the NBA, it’s like giving all the doubters an overdose of Red Bull. For the next two months you’ll hear the doubters talking non-stop as if they’ve got a gallon of caffeine whizzing through their veins. We’ll hear at least a couple thousand reasons why Taurean Green ought to stay in school and why he won’t make it in the NBA from the doubters. We’ve always heard from the doubters when it comes to Taurean Green.

Three years ago Taurean came to the University of Florida with Horford, Noah and Brewer. Florida wanted the three big guys bad. Florida wanted Green and the Gators were happy when he signed, but he wasn’t the first choice for a point guard. Initially, the first choice was Darius Washington of Orlando Edgewater, but Washington’s overbearing dad and flirtations with the NBA turned off the Florida coaching staff. Washington turned off the NBA, too, so he signed with John Calipari at Memphis. Florida turned its attentions to Jordan Farmar of Los Angeles and the Gators were in it until the bitter end when he chose UCLA.

Taurean Green was ready to commit to Florida State when Billy Donovan and Florida offered. Green didn’t hesitate to say yes and he didn’t mind that there were doubters calling him Florida’s consolation prize.

“He always had confidence that he could play,” said Big Sid. “He never doubted that he could play at this level.”

Washington spent two years at Memphis where he will be remembered most for missing three free throws that cost Memphis the NCAA Tournament as a freshman and a miserable game he played against UCLA (and Farmar) that cost the Tigers a chance to make the Final Four as a sophomore. Washington declared for the NBA after his sophomore year and wasn’t drafted. He’s playing pro ball in Greece now.

Farmar got UCLA to the NCAA championship game in 2006 where he went head to head with, of all people, Taurean Green. Green broke down Farmar to the tune of eight assists and just one turnover and while Farmar did score 18 points, he had to launch 21 shots.

Green backed up Anthony Roberson as a freshman at Florida, but he started and got a national championship as a sophomore, then came back to earn another national title his junior year. The Gators went 91-19 in Green’s three years, 68-11 with Green starting every game at the point the last two years.

With all those wins and all that success, you would think the doubters would be hushed, but that’s not been the case.

“Throughout his career his talent and ability have been doubted but the kid has seven championships since he’s been here as a point guard,” said Big Sid. “We’re talking about three SEC championships, a conference championship and two NCAA championships — which is pretty good — and then there is the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament and that’s one that everybody said Florida would finish last.”

Florida didn’t finish last because Taurean Green lit up Wake Forest and Syracuse for 23 points in back to back games to earn the MVP. Green was also MVP in the SEC Tournament as a sophomore and the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional two weeks ago in St. Louis. Green always had this habit of saving his best games for the biggest stages.

Florida repeated as NCAA champs in 2007 even though there were some stretches of the season when the Gators were far from healthy. Horford suffered a high ankle sprain that cost him a couple of games and slowed him much of the season. Brewer had mononucleosis. Noah had a lingering bronchial infection.

“We played the last two years with really only one pure point guard,” said Donovan. “Al had some injuries this year, Jo had some illnesses, Corey had some illnesses. Knock on wood the one guy that never got hurt for us all year long and all last year was Taurean Green.”

Donovan played the point at Providence back in the 1980s. Like Green, he was a guard that had to silence the doubters and there were plenty of them until he practically willed the Friars to the Final Four in 1987. If anyone understands what a great point guard does for you, it’s Billy Donovan.

“The true success of a team can be defined by a point guard,” Donovan said. “I don’t know if there’s a better point guard in America [than Taurean].”

There is a level of trust between Donovan, Big Sid and Taurean that runs deep and strong. It’s always been there. Big Sid was willing to send Taurean off to Florida to play for Donovan. Taurean was willing to work his butt off in practice and wait for his chance as a freshman while backing up Roberson, an All-SEC choice. From the very beginning, Donovan rode Taurean hard and made him work harder than any other player on the team.

“When he signed with the University of Florida we told him that we weren’t looking for instant gratification,” said Big Sid. “I wanted him to graduate and earn his degree, but things took place and they won two national championships with him as the point guard. The only other point guard that’s done that in the last 30 years is Bobby Hurley (Duke, 1991-92).”

Once again, the trust between Donovan, Big Sid and Taurean is the centerpiece of a major decision. If Donovan had told Taurean to stay one more year, it would have been done. Just like that.

“I would have stayed,” Taurean said. “I have 100 percent trust in Coach Donovan. He’s helped me become the basketball player I am today. He gets all the feedback from the right people so if he had said ‘Taurean you need to come back,’ I would have come back.”

Big Sid concurred, “I trusted him [Donovan] with my son the last three years and I’ll trust him with this as well.”

But there was also this issue of trust with his best friends and roommates. Brewer said Monday night that if one of them was coming back, the other three would come back, too. Taurean remembered what happened last year.

“If those three left and Coach said ‘Taurean, you need to come back’ I would have come back,” he said. “I wouldn’t have wanted them to stay for me. They already did that one year.”

They did come back last year. The NBA was calling Noah, Horford and Brewer last year, too, but not Green. He had too many doubters. Brewer is the one that understood that the most and he’s the one that said he was staying last year. Noah and Horford didn’t hesitate to join Brewer and the 0-Fours remained intact for one more year.

Don’t think that Taurean Green is sacrificing his senior year at the University of Florida so his teammates don’t have to feel guilty that they’re making big NBA bucks, however. While there are those that might think he’s not tall enough or quick enough, there are enough scouts that have seen him play defense and they all know that when a game is on the line Taurean Green won’t hesitate to take and make the big shot.

“Coach Donovan has done the research,” said Big Sid. “We know that the NBA executives are saying. The feedback we’ve been getting has all been good. I played in the league myself and I have a lot of friends who are saying the same thing. He will have to work hard, but he’s well prepared to do that.”

When Taurean had his heart to heart talk with Big Sid about making the leap from college to the NBA, the big guy offered his son the same piece of advice he offered the day that Taurean left home for Gainesville to attend the University of Florida.

“Going to the NBA was my dream when I was in grade school and I was fortunate enough to see my dream come true,” said Big Sid. “Taurean’s had the dream since he was a little guy, too. I told him that the Lord didn’t bless you with a 6-9 frame like your dad but if this is what you really want to do, then this is what you have to do to stay true to your dreams: be true to yourself, stay honest and work hard and great things will happen for you. That’s exactly what he’s done and that’s what he will continue to do.”

When Big Sid sent Taurean off to school in Gainesville, it was with the promise that he would do whatever it took to earn his college degree from the University of Florida, just like his older sister. To earn his dad’s blessing to leave college early for the NBA, Taurean had to re-assure dad that he wouldn’t break his promise.

“After we got the information from Coach Donovan, his mother and I talked to him and told him that if he was going to make this move, it has to be with the assurance that he will come back and get his degree,” said Big Sid, a UNLV graduate who is an executive with Planet Hollywood. “He assured us of that and I’ll make sure that he’ll do it. That’s just me being a dad that loves his son. He knows that.”

The margin for error is far greater for Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer. There is this old adage about the NBA draft that if you’re going to make a mistake, make a tall mistake. Because all three of them are tall, they’ll get far more opportunities than Green. Taurean will have to work harder than ever before and he will have to re-prove himself every time he steps on the floor.

He’s aware of what he’s up against and he’s confident, too, particularly after an encounter he had on campus Thursday afternoon.

“Actually two girls came up to me and said I look taller today, so I’m feeling really good about myself right now,” Taurean said.

Taurean was feeling good about himself and Big Sid was feeling good about his son. Big Sid followed his dreams when he was young. Now he’s watching his son forge a path on his own.

“My boy has become a man right before my eyes,” said Big Sid.

Those eyes filled up with tears. Big Sid was a little bit sad, a little bit proud and definitely feeling a little bit older. It’s a dad thing, not something he ever looked forward to but something he knew he had to experience on this Thursday afternoon.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.