John Green has three large letters tattooed over his sternum: MOB. It stands for “Mind on Basketball.” That was Green’s emphasis while his body was missing from UCSB’s games. The 6’5” swingman from Oakland made his college debut in a 2011 exhibition, scoring 17 points in a victory over San Francisco State. He and Arizona recruit Alan Williams, a husky post player, appeared to be the future of Gaucho basketball. In Green’s case, it turned out to be the distant future.
A fractured left foot ended Green’s freshman season before it really started. That was the first in a cascade of injuries that wiped out his sophomore season, as well. He managed to play in three games last February, between the healing of his foot and the breaking of his wrist, for a total of 33 minutes.
MOB sustained Green, though not to the detriment of another reason for his attending UCSB. “Every once in a while I say: ‘Mind on Books,’” he said. He is majoring in anthropology and could have settled into student life without putting his limbs at further risk. But then he would not be the man his parents raised him to be.
“There are other people in this world who have things worse than I’ve had … cancer, things that are life-risking,” Green said. “I want to be a living testimony: Don’t give up. There are always going to be obstacles in life; it’s how you embrace them and how you overcome them. Are you going to quit on something you love?
“I’m a basketball lover. I like to watch [NBA stars] Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony. They get to the basket, have a good mid-range game. I try to pattern my game after them. During all those injuries, I tried to mentally learn moves by watching a lot of basketball.
“I look at my mother, Sheila, for guidance. She’s always about academics, working hard, being clean, and being kind to people. She kept my spirits up, always making sure I was fine, even if she was far away, telling me to stick with it. My father, Reggie, played college ball. He knows what I can do. He’s always been confident, telling me to keep my head up.”
Reggie Green was in the stands at the Phog Allen Fieldhouse two weeks ago when his fully fit son came off the bench and contributed nine points in UCSB’s season opener at No. 5–ranked Kansas. “I fouled out, a couple bogus calls, but that’s how the game goes,” John Green said. “My father told me, ‘The only thing you can do from here is take off and be better.’”
Green’s improvement was immediate in the Gauchos’ next game, an overtime thriller at Florida Gulf Coast: 17 points in 26 minutes of action. “On the floor, I had a little rushed tendency,” he said. “Now I’m starting to slow down. I’m getting more comfortable.”
Green said those words after his most complete game yet, 17 points and seven rebounds in a 91-45 blowout of The Master’s College last Saturday. “It’s the tip of the iceberg, what we’re seeing now with John Green,” Gaucho coach Bob Williams said. “What we’re seeing now is good; later in the year, you’ll see what I’ve been talking about for three years. … He’s probably the most versatile scorer we have.”
Green is a senior in years, a junior in eligibility, and a freshman in enthusiasm. “It feels good to see myself on the court, giving the team what the coach wanted to see, that one missing piece, that X factor the team has needed the past couple years,” he said. His recovery couldn’t be better timed, with Alan Williams geared up to have a huge senior year and depth at every position. “Last year we were good but not great,” Green said. “This year we can be great. We took two tough losses on the road that we learned from.”
The Gaucho men will play in the Great Alaska Shootout this weekend, opening with Washington State on Thanksgiving night. They’ll be home the night of Thursday, December 4, against Seattle.
MAGGIE’S TEAM IN TOWN: More than eight years have passed since Maggie Dixon, in her only season as head coach, led the army’s women into the NCAA tournament — a first for any basketball team at the U.S. Military Academy — but her fingerprints are all over the Black Knights’ team that will face UCSB’s women in the Thunderdome on Friday night, November 28.
Dixon died suddenly of a heart ailment on April 6, 2006, just weeks after her team’s tournament loss to Tennessee, at the age of 28. She was so beloved during her brief time at West Point that she is buried at the academy’s cemetery overlooking the Hudson River.
David Magarity, a veteran men’s basketball coach whom Dixon hired as her assistant, passed up an NBA scouting job to stay on as head coach of the army women. They made their second NCAA appearance last year and are picked to finish first in the Patriot League preseason poll. They present quite a challenge to the struggling Gaucho women.
Maggie Dixon has a connection to UCSB. Her brother, Jamie, was a graduate assistant coach with the Gaucho men’s team in the 1991-1992 season, when she was a 14-year-old player at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks. “That was the first time I saw that she was taking basketball seriously,” said Jamie, who is eight years older. “We talked a lot.” Jamie followed UCSB assistant Ben Howland to Northern Arizona and then to the University of Pittsburgh, taking over as the Panthers’ head coach when Howland went to UCLA.
Maggie Dixon played at the University of San Diego (USD). After being cut by the WNBA’s L.A. Sparks, she followed her brother’s footsteps into coaching, first as a volunteer assistant at DePaul. When he heard Maggie was being interviewed at West Point, Jamie had serious doubts. “The enrollment was 10 percent women,” he said. “But after hanging out with the players, Maggie said, ‘I have to coach these kids.’”
The rest was history, cheers, and tears. Jamie’s frequent thoughts about his sister are buoyed by what a former USD coach, Kyle Smith, once said about her: “Maggie Dixon never had a bad day.”