… U.S. ARMY SPECIALIST, 571ST MILITARY POLICE COMPANY … NOTRE DAME BASKETBALL PLAYER, 1995 2000 The only discipline that lasts is self-discipline. B UM P HILLIPS, former NFL head coach DANIELLE GREEN 23 My mom smoked crack for the majority of my childhood, and my dad was never around. I was an only child and I looked at sports as an outlet, a way to get me out of the inner city. I just had to break the cycle in my family. I was home alone a lot and on Saturdays I used to watch Notre Dame football every week. Even then, I thought there must be something special about that place. I focused on my grades and athletics so I wouldn’t end up like my mom or anyone else in my family. I would spend all my free time going to parks with my semi-flat basketball. I decided I was going to go to Notre Dame. The first organized ball I played was in the sixth grade. At the time I was just a rebounder. I was big, but I didn’t know how to shoot. Fortunately, I had a coach who knew the game and drilled us on the fundamentals. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I remember getting a bike and telling my mom I was just going riding. What I really did was go down to the high school.
It was a dangerous placethere were drug shootings therebut I didn’t care. It wasn’t like I felt comfortable sitting in my house. I would get in the game, playing against twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, and handle myself pretty well. Soon I was standing out, even among kids much older than me, and I started feeling good about myself for the first time. FIRST MOMENT One day, I was working on my game at the high school when a guy who’d been staring at me walked up to me and said, Wow, if you ever work on your right hand you could be a great ballplayer. It might have been the first praise I got in anything at any time. I’m not even sure if he knew anything about the game, but I knew he was right. As a natural lefty, I had never taken the time to learn how to use my other hand. HIGH SCHOOL I went to Roosevelt High School in Chicago, and I have to say I put the team on the map. They had not won much until I got there, but once I 24 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME did the team started to soar. My freshman year we went undefeated, and then we started playing big-time schools. It was great for me because I played three different positions and was pretty much the entire offense. The highlight had to be the conference finals.
I scored forty-two points with seventeen rebounds as a freshman and we won. I was never the type of player who got in anyone’s face. I just wanted to stay strong in school and get to Notre Dame. I knew my teammates were not putting the extra work in, but I still had to keep myself on track. I could feel that my life had taken a turn. I could have done whatever I wanted, because I had nobody looking out for me, but I was always motivated to make something of myself. FROM STAR TO SUB I got to Notre Dame and for some reason I stopped fighting. It was almost like I forgot how to work hard. I was also not the best player on the team, like I’d been in Chicago. I was coming off the bench, which was hard, so I averaged only one point a game and I wanted to leave. Over the summer, I got ready to roll and then I tore my Achilles tendon. I was devastated. My junior year, I started to show some promise and Coach McGraw started to ride me hard. I thought she was picking on me. I didn’t get it. Now I know she knew I could be great and didn’t see the drive and dedication from me that were necessary to actually be great. We fought constantly throughout my five years at the college. Looking back, I was just not prepared for the size and speed of the opponents playing against me every game. And I never took the time to develop my right hand.
I started off great my last two years and ended up on and off the bench. Part of it was that I just could not handle not being the star. I guess you could say I was selfish. I became possessed by stats. I didn’t understand the team concept. I thought I could be the star and here I was, the fourth or fifth option. In fact, I almost didn’t get my fifth year granted because my coach thought I was a cancer. I guess, in a way, I was, despite the fact that I still averaged twelve points a game. In retrospect, I was looking for a mother figure to give me some type of support and my coach was not used to playing that role. DANIELLE GREEN 25 A LIFE-CHANGING MOVE I graduated college and tried out for the Detroit Shock of the WNBA. I was the last cut and was let go. I tried teaching, which I liked, but I wanted a challenge, so I decided to join the army. I signed up on September 16, 2002. I knew the Iraq war was coming, but I still did it. I loved the uniform and thought serving my country would be the noblest thing. By 2004, I was in Iraq. I’d been in Iraq four months when a rocket-propelled grenade hit me in my thigh, and I lost my left arm below the elbow. I had to relearn everything, because my left hand was dominant.
Brushing my teeth, combing my hair, and trying to tie my shoes were all a challenge. NOW I FINALLY HAVE TO WORK MY RIGHT HAND. What helped me get through this wound and the loss of my arm was Coach Muffin McGraw. After being hit, I was shipped out to Germany, and it just so happened that a friend of Coach McGraw’s was also in the hospital. She contacted my coach, who called me in Germany. I told her, Coach, you always told me to use my right hand and now I have to. In reality, it was her toughness that got me ready for this challenge. She was tougher than any drill sergeant I’d ever had. She demanded more of me and let me know I could do anything. Also, I think playing on the streets of Chicago hardened me, allowing me to put up with the pain. It helped me with the adjustment to my new situation. READY FOR THIS? As I came to and realized what had happened, I thought about life without my hand. On my left hand, which had been blown off, were my wedding rings. They weren’t even paid for yet, and now they were gone. Well, word got out about my rings and the soldiers in my unit, my new team, went back out, and found my hand and the rings, risking their lives to do so.
I thought, How lucky am I to have people in my corner like that? I instantly eliminated feeling sorry for myself. FINAL THOUGHTS Without basketball I would have been in a gang. I used to think they were so cool and they all had so much money. And maybe I’d have had a few 26 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME babies. I just hate to think about life without the game. Now I’m out of the army, but I don’t regret a thing. It changed me for the better. I’m in grad school now, and yes, my right hand is getting better every day. Now I just have to worry about overusing it. THE WRAP If Danielle’s life isn’t worthy of a movie, I don’t know whose life is. Let’s all think twice before we ever complain about our circumstances again. Here’s a situation where sports were used to save a life and carve out a future that had been destined for disaster. Again, no sports career is perfect, and it took a grown-up Danielle to recognize that the collegiate Danielle was selfish. What’s most important is that she learned from her experience. I think she’ll make one heck of a college coach someday.
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