Updated: May 8
What made Taurean Green special and therefore a huge part of the Florida Gators basketball's success? It was a little tough love and a huge chip on the shoulder.
BY FRANZ BEARD
Before he left home to embark on the best three years of his basketball life, Taurean Green got sage advice from Big Sid.
Big Sid is Sidney Green, Taurean’s dad and a former All-American at UNLV, 10-year NBA veteran and Division I head coach at both North Florida and Florida Atlantic. Big Sid tends to speak from experience of getting chewed out by the likes of Tark the Shark among others. Taurean tends to take whatever his dad says as gospel.
“My dad always told me when I was growing up that you have to be coached even when your coach is hard on you,” Taurean says. “Before I left for Gainesville he said, ‘You have to let Coach Donovan coach you. If he’s yelling at you he’s not trying to tear you down, he’s trying to make you better. Be a sponge. Listen. Tough love will make you better.’”
“The Love Boat” could have been filled with all the tough love Taurean Green got from Billy Donovan at the University of Florida. Donovan was hard on Green, perhaps harder on him than any other point guard he coached at the University of Florida.
Sometimes Green would resist. “I can be stubborn,” he says, but stubborn only made Donovan push harder. When Green dug in his heels, Donovan pushed back, often calling Green any one of a couple dozen nicknames. The one Green remembers most is “Numbnuts.” All he has to do is close his eyes and take a mental journey back 13 years and he can hear that clear as a bell.
There was method to what seemed like Donovan’s madness. This wasn’t just a case of tough love. This was a case of toughening up the kind of point guard Donovan knew the Gators would need to become special. To go from good as the Gators were in Green’s freshman year of 2005 to the great they were in the back-to-back national championship seasons (2006-07), they had to have a true floor general unfazed by crowds in hostile arenas or big moments with national television audiences watching.
Taurean Green was that guy.
In Florida’s two national championship runs, the Gators went a combined 68-11, finishing the 2006 season with an 11-game winning streak and the 2007 season by winning their last 10. Florida became the first team since Duke (1990-91) to win consecutive national championships and only the sixth team in NCAA history to repeat. No one has done it since.
All five Florida starters averaged double figures in those two seasons. Green averaged 13.3 per game in both years, leading the team in scoring in 2007. He led the Gators in assists and he’s the one starter who never missed a game. In many ways you could say he was the glue guy who held the Gators together. There wasn’t another point guard on the team who could have gotten the job done if Green had gotten hurt or missed a game for any reason whatsoever.
Green was thought of as somewhat of a consolation prize in a 2004 class that included Al Horford, Joakim Noah and McDonald’s All-American Corey Brewer, a fact that only made the chip that is permanently lodged on Green’s shoulder grow exponentially. Donovan went hard after Jordan Farmar (UCLA), Darius Washington (Memphis) and Jason Horton (Missouri) and the four of them actually met up at Florida’s elite camp in the summer of 2003. Of the four, Green was thought to be the fourth best and that only made the chip on his shoulder swell to enormous proportions.
“I knew I had to prove myself,” Green remembers. “I knew I wanted to go to Florida.” The motivation came when Donovan told them he liked all four of them but would give the scholarship to whoever was first to commit after the camp.
Green had an outstanding camp and showed his worth when matched against Horton in pick and roll reads, Green made all the right decisions and was easily the better player. He wasted no time in committing to the Gators.
What happened at that elite camp was a foreshadowing of what was to come for Green in the 2006-07 national championship years. After a freshman year in which he backed up All-SEC Anthony Roberson for a Florida team that won the SEC Tournament, Green became the point guard in a starting five that included Horford, Noah, Brewer and Lee Humphrey. In those two championship seasons, all five of them averaged in double figures. All five were tenacious defenders.
All five of them were committed to doing whatever it took to win.
“I think that’s what is so great about our team,” Green says. “We had so much chemistry. I’m not sure there will ever be another team with the kind of chemistry we had. Nobody was jealous of each other. The only thing we cared about was winning. We had the ability to lock in … I mean completely lock in and do whatever had to be done.”
Horford was the jack-of-all-trades big man who could grab a rebound and break out of the pack on the dribble to lead the fast break. Noah was an extraordinary post defender through whom the entire offense could run if teams tried to stifle Green at the point. Brewer was the most feared perimeter defender in the country and a ferocious dunker when finishing the fast break. Humphrey was such a reliable, accurate three-point shooter that defenses stretched, opening the floor for the other four.
And then there was Green, a consistent three-point shooter, an underrated defender, the guy who ran the offense and the one guy who could bring the air back in the room after Noah had sucked it all out with his bigger than life personality.
After the SEC Tournament in Atlanta in 2007, Noah put on a show that left Verne Lundquist speechless when he danced in celebration of Florida’s championship. In the locker room post game, Green threw a couple of verbal gallons of ice water on Noah.
Sitting in the locker next to Noah’s, Green told a gathering of reporters that (a) Noah can’t dance and (b) Noah doesn’t win most of the arguments because he (Green) wins them. Then he reached through the throng of reporters surrounding Noah and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Jo, you can’t dance!” Green said with a smug little green. The imp had spoken.
Noah shouted back, “I can dance! Yes, I can dance! What a hater! You’re a hater!”
There would be no further argument, but Green offered a consolation, sort of pumping some air back into Noah’s balloon when he offered, “You can sing, Jo, but you really can’t dance,” to which Noah replied, “I can sing. I can really sing.”
Three weeks later the Gators completed their second straight six-game run through the NCAA Tournament. They were back in Atlanta where they destroyed UCLA in the semifinals and then whacked Ohio State in the championship game to complete a season in which the Gators began and finished the season ranked number one.
In retrospect, Green understands it might not have been possible except for Donovan’s steady diet of tough love and a helping hand from Big Sid.
“Coach Donovan was getting me ready for the big games and the big moments,” Green says. “As a team, we weren’t afraid of the big games. We lived for them. I lived for them. I had that chip on my shoulder and we’d go up against someone like Kentucky and Rajon Rondo. I’d hear all week how Rondo was going to bust my ass.”
At the O-Dome in February of 2006, Green went off for 29 points, four rebounds, nine assists, a blocked shot and three steals in leading the Gators to a 95-80 win over UK. Two weeks later in Lexington, Green held Rondo to four points.
Whenever the Gators were going to play some highly-regarded point guard, Green knew exactly what was coming from coaches and teammates.
Big Sid’s contribution – maybe his most important among the many he made as the team dad during the three years Taurean was at UF – was when he made an impromptu trip to Gainesville in 2007 after the Gators had lost three out of four games in surprising February mini-slump that had the national media talking that the pressure of a repeat was just too much.
“He brought a video with him and showed it to us,” Taurean recalls. “In those three games we lost, we didn’t look like the GatorBoyz. We looked like a team that was tired of playing. My dad showed us video of how much fun we had when we were winning and he reminded us to find the joy in playing together again. That was the kid of thing he did for us a lot. He would make these trips up to Gainesville when we didn’t expect it and it gave us a dad to love on. He’s this big teddy bear anyway and he was always there for us.”
The Gators never lost again in 2007 after Big Sid helped bring back the joy.
Maybe it was because the five guys who started in 2006 and again in 2007 knew this was the last rodeo that the Gators dominated their way to another national championship. Brewer was the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament but it could have been Horford and it definitely could have been Green, who scored 99 points in the six games while teaming with Humphrey to limit opposing guards to 35-116 shooting (30.7%) from the three-point line. In Atlanta, UCLA and Ohio State combined to go 9-46 (19.5%) on three-balls.
It was a fitting close to a Florida career for a player who learned that tough love put him in position to do something very few guards ever get to do – lead their team to consecutive national championships. It helped that the chip on his shoulder never departed.
“What I remember is we’d always hear the analysts on TV or read about how this guy or that guy was better than me,” Green says. “Every time I had to battle against someone they had ranked higher than me, it got me going. Yeah, it’s all about the team, but I got that chip on my shoulder. The more they talked, the bigger it got.”
* * *
Three days after the Gators bushwhacked Ohio State, Horford, Noah, Brewer and Green announced they would not return for their senior season at Florida. Horford, Noah and Brewer became lottery picks. Green was chosen in the second round by the Portland Trail Blazers.
After one year in the NBA, Green made his way to Europe where he’s been playing ever since. He’s spent the last 12 years playing in Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Israel. It’s a different game than the NBA, but one in which Green has thrived.
“Think of Europe as more a combination of the NBA and college basketball,” he said. “In the NBA it’s more of an isolation game where one or two guys are going to carry you. In Europe, it’s not unusual for the best teams’ top scorer to average something like 14 or 15 points a game. The pace is different. The way the ball moves and gets shared is different. Some think it’s not physical over there, but that’s not true. It’s very physical, but the game is different than the NBA, that’s for sure.”
It’s a game that he has yet to decide if he will go back to once the COVID-19 pandemic allows life to get back to normal. Tauren is the president of Green Sports Management. He and his partner will represent and train players for both the NBA and Europe. It’s a promising enterprise that energizes him the way facing some highly ranked point guard used to when he played for the Gators.
But whatever happens next, whether it’s full-time into sports management or back for one last fling in Europe, nothing will ever top the memories of the championship teams at the University of Florida.
“I remember like it was yesterday,” he says. “We made a lot of great memories together. Some guys wait all their lives just to be a part of a championship once. We did it twice in a row. Not many guys can say that.”
And, in no small part to a heavy dose of tough love and a chip on a shoulder that never went away.