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‘The kid can flat-out play’: Jalen Green is ready to show his talent in the G League

The G League Ignite will finally take to the court in early February

Reggie Hearn was taking part in a game of 3-on-3 with the new G League Ignite in October when he got shocked by a teenager. The onetime Detroit Pistons guard with a strong, 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame was caught off guard when a slender 18-year-old named Jalen Green muscled him out of the way and dunked on him.

“Jalen drove baseline one or two dribbles, and I was right on his hip. And he gave me a quick little shoulder, which was surprising,” Hearn told The Undefeated in a phone interview about his G League teammate. “He just gave me a quick little shoulder to the chest, knocked me off balance a little bit and he went up two hands, two feet and just dunked on me.

“I said, ‘Wow. OK.’ I had watched some highlights of the guys before I came here and I saw he could get up. But it’s different dunking on a fast break than it is driving baseline, giving someone a shoulder and dunking with two hands and two feet in traffic. That’s when I knew for the first time he was legit. … The kid can flat-out play.”

While college basketball freshmen have shined during the pandemic, Green is doing his work as the face of the G League’s new development program. The potential No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft turned down Kentucky, Arizona, Memphis, Auburn, Oregon and other colleges to become the first high school player to join the Ignite, which is allowing teenage draft prospects an opportunity to play exhibition games against fellow G League teams and focus on player development over one season. Green is being paid $600,000 for joining the program, which is coached by former NBA player and coach Brian Shaw.

The Ignite have been training in Walnut Creek, California, but will finally take to the court in early February at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. G League players will need to pass four COVID-19 tests before clearing quarantine and will also be tested daily. Green can’t wait to make his professional debut.

“I’m just excited to go play, and actually being able to have games,” Green said. “So that’s a blessing. We’ve been sitting out for so long, and the other games were just scrimmages. So, I think I got a little taste of what it looked like or what it’s going to be getting ready for the bubble.”

Other top prospects joining Green include Jonathan Kuminga, Daishen Nix, Kai Sotto, Isaiah Todd and Princepal Singh.

The pandemic has been challenging for Green and the Ignite players, who have been focused on training and practicing since August without playing in real games. The Ignite players have lived in an apartment complex close to their practice facility, where they must take COVID-19 tests every morning and are allowed limited access to the public.

Along with basketball training, the Ignite offer mentorship, life skills training and online college classes as part of the professional development program. Green added that the Ignite also offer a psychologist for mental health needs.

Without much to do during their time off, Green says, they play a lot of video games to pass the time.

“A lot has changed since high school,” Green said. “We’re out here on our own. I’ve been out here on my own since August. Still talk to my family, check in, see how they’re doing. It’s been different, but it’s been a great opportunity for me to grow up and just take over my own business with basketball, learning as much as I can, and just know my surroundings, be really aware of what is around me and what’s going on.

“So, it’s been a blessing to come do this because a lot of people, a lot of 18-year-olds would love to be in this position. We just got to carry ourselves like a professional.”

Along with being coached by Shaw, the Ignite have aided the young players’ development by adding former NBA players, including Hearn, Bobby Brown, Jarrett Jack, Amir Johnson and Donta Hall, to the roster. Former NBA guard Jeremy Lin, now with the G League Santa Cruz Warriors, has also worked out with the Ignite. Green, who turns 19 on Feb. 9, says he has been squeezing the veterans for information. He says he feels like he is “one step” ahead of the college players.

“I talk to Bobby Brown and Reggie Hearn a lot,” Green said. “All the vets talk to us. We like little brothers to them. They’re very helpful and they give us a lot of information. They used to be us. The best thing I can take right now from a vet is I need to slow down and just take my time. I can get whatever bucket I want. I just need to slow down. …

“Probably the difference with my game now is my pace. I’ve slowed the game down a lot more. I’ve gotten a lot stronger and I think my shot has gotten a lot better. I’m still working on the defense. Guys are a lot faster, same speed as you, whatever it is, just got to adapt. But I’m getting better every day. Y’all going to notice.”

Hearn has been impressed not only by Green’s talent, but also by how coachable he is.

“I’ve been encouraging him to always be in attack mode, especially in transition,” Hearn said. “Also, I’m encouraging him to find easy ways to get a few buckets per game through cutting and learning how to move without the ball. He’s humble and coachable on top of his natural talent, and that will take him far.”

Green said one of the best parts of being with the Ignite is learning the business side of the NBA. He said the G League franchise has been teaching the young players about budgeting and saving money. He also started a limited liability company to help him with his future business and charitable endeavors in such places as his hometown of Fresno, California.

Green added that another benefit of playing for the Ignite is getting paid $600,000.

“I ain’t never seen no money like that in my bank account, so I was excited about it,” Green said. “But I haven’t really made any big purchases. All my purchases have been on food. That’s all I really spend money on. I don’t really spend money on anything else. I probably got a couple shoes here and there, but I don’t really spend my money like that.

“I opened up a savings account. Put money in my savings account, got my corporation set up, so I’m not too worried about money. Money’s not the reason I came here.”

Green says he has no regrets about not going to college. When asked what he would tell an elite NBA prospect considering joining the Ignite, he said everyone’s path is different.

“Do what you think is best for you,” Green said. “Think of all the pros and cons with which side you’re leaning to. Either side is good. Either way you go, you’re going to be good. It’s a big decision. Make sure that you’re in control of what you’re doing.’”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.