The first thing that’s noticeable about Jalen Green is his long, lithe body. Spindly arms and slender shoulders that have never lifted a barbell. A thin torso supported by skinny legs made to look even skinnier by Green’s choice of tight-fitting shorts that barely extend to mid thigh.
“Those skinny legs jump, though,” smirks Demetrius Porter, the former Fresno State point guard as he and I sat behind the basket in the Memorial High gym before a recent game. “Like (two-time NBA dunk contest champion) Zach LaVine.”
You don’t need to be a basketball Einstein to figure out why the Panthers sophomore is being touted as the No. 1 high school basketball player in the nation in the class of 2020. (Rivals ranks him No. 1. ESPN and 247Sports have him No. 2.)
It’s clear from the moment Green dribbles the ball before pausing outside the arc for an effortless pull-up 3.
At the point Green releases the ball, the poor defender attached to his hip would need a trampoline to have any chance of disturbing the shot.
“I just love playing basketball,” Green says. “Going at people, passing, defense, everything. I like to do everything.”
Later in the half, a teammate under the basket with the ball spots Green gliding down the lane and lobs a pass above the rim. Without breaking stride, Green leaps and uses both hands to stuff the ball through the net.
The majority of those seated in the gym gasp in unison.
“People tell me how lucky I am,” Memorial coach Brad Roznovsky says. “He does something every day in practice or a game that just amazes me.”
One month shy of his 16th birthday, Green boasts scholarship offers from at least 15 Division I colleges including Fresno State, which has recruited him heavily since the seventh grade. That list will assuredly grow, along with his 6-foot-5, 170-pound frame.
Green did not garner those offers from his accomplishments at Memorial. (No slam on the Panthers, who were Central Section Division II finalists last season and started No. 1 in The Bee’s initial 2017-18 overall section rankings.) Those happened as a result of AAU ball and his performance at last summer’s FIBA U16 Championships in Argentina, where Green scored 13 points in Team USA’s gold-medal victory over Canada.
Locally, several coaches and observers I spoke to rate Green as Fresno’s best prep prospect since DeShawn Stevenson, who in 2000 went straight from Washington Union to a 13-year NBA career. And, yes, that span includes 2006 Memorial grads (and current NBA players) Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez and Quincy Pondexter.
The debate is over who’s better, Jalen or DeShawn. It’s a pretty good debate, too. Different types of players, but both are pretty darn good.
Former Fresno State point guard Demetrius Porter
Two years from now, when Green has made his college choice – or, if the rules revert as some expect, jumps straight to the NBA – he could have all the trophies and accolades.
“There’s a lot of buzz about him,” Roznovsky says. “Friday night home games during league, I can imagine you’ve got to get here early or you’re not going to get in.”
Off the court
Who is Jalen Romande Green? On the surface, just a normal 15-year-old who enjoys normal 15-year-old things (i.e. family, music, hanging out with friends) but happens to be blessed with height and natural basketball ability.
That’s only part of it, though. Along with the talent comes an unusual drive and sizable work ethic that marvel his coaches and trainers.
“I’ve always tried to be the best out there,” Green says. “I want to try to get to the NBA eventually. … I just want to be the best I can be and want to keep working.”
Green was born in Merced and grew up there and in Livingston, the hometown of his mother. Bree Purganan, a self-described “country girl” who became a nurse, moved the family to Fresno when Jalen was in the third grade.
By sixth grade, Green was already excelling in AAU basketball and looking for ways to get better. Jalen asked the coach of an opposing team to train him, and the man quickly became one of his basketball mentors.
Eventually, Marcus Green (same last name but no relation) began a relationship with Purganan and also became Jalen’s stepfather.
A Fresno native who played alongside Stevenson at Washington, Marcus Green was immediately struck by the boy’s desire and appetite for hoops. At one point, Jalen was playing basketball for three different teams (school and AAU) in Fresno and Oakland as well as training an hour a day four times a week.
“He was working out and practicing basketball for five hours a day in the sixth grade,” Marcus Green says. “He would just work, work, work. Like no kid I’d seen.”
The work has certainly paid off. Over the last year, Green has improved his outside shooting to the point where defenders can’t back off. Now they have to guard him on the perimeter, leaving them susceptible to the drive.
What happens after he blows by? Find out by clicking on one of the many highlight reels.
“Jalen’s the most exciting player I’ve seen around here since DeShawn,” says Porter, who preceded Stevenson at Washington. “I always judge a kid by if he’s worth the price of admission. He’s creating a buzz in the Central Valley that we haven’t seen in some time.”
Perhaps Green’s most impressive attribute is humility. Despite all the hype, not to mention all the requests to pose for pictures and sign autographs, he’s managed to remain humble and level-headed.
“He never brags about anything,” Purganan says. “His friends say they don’t know about half the offers (Jalen) has because he doesn’t say anything about it. It’s just so crazy to me that a 15-year-old can be like that.”
“He doesn’t really show the attention he gets,” Roznovsky says. “He’s very humble about it. Because of that he’s very well-liked by his teammates and on campus.”
He wants us to be hard on him. He wants to be coached. He wants to be the best player in his class.
Memorial High boys basketball coach Brad Roznovsky, on Jalen Green
Green isn’t allowed to focus solely on basketball. His parents say they chose to send Jalen to Memorial primarily for academic reasons (financial aid covers some but not all of the $11,000 annual tuition) and won’t allow him to play hoops if his GPA slips below 3.0.
“That’s no joke. School’s got to come first,” says Jalen, who enjoyed learning about human behavior in psychology class last semester and aspires to become a veterinarian if basketball doesn’t work out.
Green says he isn’t thinking about college basketball or committing to any particular school. He is focused on the high school season, getting back to the section championships at Selland Arena and finishing the job, as well as maintaining his status as a leading prospect in the class of 2020, which is mostly dependent on AAU and Team USA performances.
Above all, the 15-year-old who models his game after Kevin Durant’s – albeit while playing in tight, “short” shorts as a retro fashion statement and wearing different-colored sneakers – wants to keep improving. The checklist includes defense, shooting, reading zones and being a more vocal on-court leader.
“I’m not going to stop working,” Green says.