The late great Dr. Seuss' book is a present that many high school graduates receive from family or friends. The story is set to inspire as you are about to embark on your own journey. A journey away from the people and places you know.
Erick Green's journey started in Inglewood, California, but his family relocated to Winchester, Virginia, where Green was raised. His destination after high school took him just 208 miles southwest of Winchester to Blacksburg, VA where he attended Virginia Tech. It wasn't until four years later that Green would be leaving the comforts of his home state. The Utah Jazz selected Green for the Nuggets as the 46th pick of the 2013 NBA draft, but he wouldn't yet be able to call Denver home. Instead, Green would have to travel some 4,420 miles to Siena, Italy to begin his professional basketball career for Montepaschi Siena.
How would the American transplant take to living abroad? Green was in for some culture shock.
"When I first got to [Siena], I was thinking they were going to have a big mall, American food. When I arrived, there was only one McDonalds and there was no other American restaurants," said Green. "People barely spoke English. I had to learn to pick up Italian, I was using my [smartphone] apps to Google translate. I thought there was going to be a movie theatre [an American theater was roughly three hours away], but there wasn't any of that. So, it made me go outside the box: go learn Italian, see what the culture is like, visit different places like Rome, places that are beautiful. It really opened up my horizon, I saw a different world, and it was great."
Not having the comforts of home, Green had to learn how to cope on his own. His rituals, habits, and patterns were to start anew, but he would still miss certain familiarities.
"My mom's cooking, that's one thing I missed and honestly, water parks," said Green. "You could fish over there, I love to fish, but I like to get out and go on boats. I like to have a good time at amusement parks, water parks, and they didn't have none of that, so that took a little adjusting for me and it was something that I missed a lot."
Nuggets General Manager Tim Connelly said that the first time he visited Green in Italy, he could tell he was a bit homesick. How could he not be? But Green had frequent visitors in Italy too.
"My mom, my dad, my sister, my aunt, and a friend [visited me]." Green said. "It really taught me to grow up, it really taught me that I was so close to being home all the time and it made me step-up and become a man. I had to learn how to cook, do all my laundry, make sure everything was clean. I'm a neat freak, it made me do things that I'm not used to doing."
We all have those moments in life, the ones where we realize we have to take care of ourselves. For Green it was going to Italy to pursue his basketball dream. He also got to take on the role of tour guide in his new digs.
"My father and I went to Rome and Florence, he was there for a week," said Green. "My mom and I went to [Castel di] Sangro, a nice little castle place, and Florence. I had games, so they came to our games. We were practicing twice a day, so there was not a lot of time I got to spend with my family, overseas they love to practice. So, anytime I got a day off, instead of sleeping, I took them out and just hung out with them."
Green also got to hangout with new teammates, guys from different walks of life. But they had a couple things in common with basketball and communicating.
"They all spoke English," Green said. "But it's kind of cool when you can speak Italian to your teammates on the court and everyone is like, 'What the heck are they saying?'"
Being secretive on the court has its advantages. And you need all the help you can get when you play hoops in Italy, Europe, and pretty much everywhere overseas. We like to think that NBA crowds are the best and unrivaled, but for a prospect needing to play in competitive atmospheres, overseas hoops fills the bill.
"Every game was sold out, flamethrowers, fights [in the stands]. It was just unbelievable," said Green. "Our team was the seven time champions, so everywhere we went we were like the Lakers over there. We're their NBA, so everywhere we went we had security all the time, it was unreal, something I'd never experienced, and they treat basketball like it's everything over there. Our soccer team wasn't too good, so our town was all about us. Everywhere you went there were people coming up to you, saying something to you, it was unbelievable."
Could Green have had the same experience if he were playing in the NBA's Developmental League or sitting on the end of the bench for the Nuggets? Going overseas and away from home helped Green earn a contract with the Nuggets for the coming season and perhaps beyond.
"It helped my game so much," said Green. "Even when I'm talking to my parents after every game, watching clips that coaches give me. I see a lot of improvement in my game. I see how poised I am, how mature I am on the court, and just how much better [overall] I am on the court. That was a great experience for me and I appreciated it."
Green made the 5,456 mile trek from Siena back to Denver where he'll play in the 5,280 foot elevation and realize his NBA dream.
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!