At 17 years old, Jalen Green showed a commitment to basketball that impressed his coaches. Three times a week, he began his day at 4:30 a.m. to drive 55 miles from Napa to Dublin, California, for a 6 a.m. workout with Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry. After the workout, Green drove back to Napa in time for class at Napa Christian. And after the school day, he went to practice for two hours with the Prolific Prep basketball program.
“Jalen was on a mission the day he walked on our campus,” Philippe Doherty, co-director of Prolific Prep, said to The Undefeated. “He wanted to be the best, the No. 1 player in the country, but more importantly, he wanted to get better. He pushed himself to great lengths to get better at all facets of the game. Jalen constantly pushed himself and demanded more of himself because he knew he had a higher ceiling than most.”
On Thursday night, the Houston Rockets selected Green, now 19 years old, with the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft. The first star of the new G League Ignite averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 36.5% from 3-point range in 15 games during the 2020-21 G League season. One NBA general manager told The Undefeated that Green has more athleticism than even the legendary Kobe Bryant.
“I’m so excited to add Jalen to our group,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas told The Undefeated. “As talented as he is, what stood out to me was his poise and humility while also being superconfident at the same time. He wants to be great and understands that he has to work and grow to get there. The experience he gained and the lessons he learned from Brian Shaw and Rasheed Hazzard in the G League prepared him for this journey. I’m glad we get to take it together.”
The 6-foot-6 guard has been praised for having an elite work ethic, giving back to his hometown, expressing pride in his African American and Filipino heritage, and caring more about winning and his team than individual accolades.
Green’s expectations were met the moment he knew he was joining the Rockets.
“I got a great phone call from general manager Rafael Stone before the draft saying I was going to be a Houston Rocket,” Green said. “I didn’t tear up, but I was excited. I was ready. This is a dream come true. I was nervous when I got the news and I hugged my mother.”
Green was born in Merced, California, in 2002 to a mother who is Filipina, Mexican and white, and a father who is African American. Green’s mother, Bree Purganan, said her father introduced Green to basketball at 4 years old by playing with him on a driveway in front of her Fresno, California, home.
“He would come in and say, ‘I beat Papa.’ My dad actually beat him but he said he won. He loved it out there playing hoops in the front yard,” Purganan said.
That competitive drive continued through high school, where Green starred for two years at San Joaquin Memorial in Fresno before transferring to Napa Christian toward the end of his sophomore year to play for Prolific Prep. Green followed in the footsteps of Detroit Pistons guard Josh Jackson and Toronto Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr., who also played at Prolific Prep. But in the seven years of the program, Doherty said, no player took his development more seriously than Green.
Doherty said Green worked diligently during his two years at Prolific Prep to improve his jump shot, increase his ability to put the ball on the floor, make better passing reads with both hands, improve as a combo-guard defender and get stronger.
One way he worked on those skills was through camps and workouts with Curry. Green met Curry at the 2018 SC30 Select Camp. They kept in touch and eventually, Curry’s personal trainer offered Green an open invitation to work out with the two-time NBA MVP.
“That was an opportunity to learn from someone who is great. I want to be great in the league,” Green said. “Learning from the best is how to be great in this league.”
It’s what allowed him to end his senior season ranked as the No. 1 player in the country in the ESPN 100 Class of 2020. And when he wasn’t focused on basketball, he would grab lunch with his younger sister Jurnee and her fourth grade classmates.
“He would be hanging out with his little sister most of the time at the elementary school, which was 15 feet away from the high school, during lunch,” Doherty said. “He was either in the gym, in class or with his younger sister. He would eat lunch with her and her classmates who didn’t know he was a future NBA player. Jalen shut off any distractions. Video games. Girls. It was a Prolific business trip.”
The Oakland Soldiers AAU program is best-known for having such alumni as LeBron James, Chauncey Billups, Kendrick Perkins, Aaron Gordon and a long list of other NBA players. Oakland Soldiers president Mark Olivier said he is excited to add an “ultimate winner” in Green to his list of former players who have gone on to the NBA.
Green played for the Oakland Soldiers’ Elite Youth Basketball League team in 2019 with another NBA draft prospect, Ziaire Williams. Green would become a 2020 McDonald’s All American and heralded NBA prospect.
Jalen Green poses on the red carpet during the 2021 NBA draft at the Barclays Center on July 29 in Brooklyn, New York.
“All the writers wanted interviews with Jalen after our games and he told them first he had to meet with his team first,” Olivier said. “The team has always been first. He always was interested in others before himself. I love this kid’s demeanor as a leader more than anything. When I recruited this kid to play with the Soldiers, I was in his living room and he said, ‘Coach, I will do anything you need me to do, I just want to win.’
“He is everything advertised. I love this kid. He has always been so respectful to me. He even calls me Uncle Mark.”
In his brief career, Green is attracting a following. Before being drafted, Green had 1.3 million followers on Instagram and 102,000 followers on Twitter.
“He has a very high maturity level with the way he handles everything,” Purganan said. “On social media, with all the negativity as well as positivity, he handles it all well. He doesn’t let it bother him or get to his head. He knows where he is at. He has a lot of work to do. He can play the game really well, but he doesn’t let that get to him. He is still in the gym working as if he’s not even ranked.”
Green would later tell The Undefeated that being a positive role model to the youth is very important to him. Green also has been receiving mentoring from NBA stars Curry, Russell Westbrook and D’Angelo Russell.
“In basketball, you often get portrayed to have a bad image if you don’t do this or that,” Green said. “I am for the kids. Whatever advice they want, I give it back. I am there for them. I am not just isolated by myself where I don’t talk to anybody.”
Green has said in several interviews that he wanted to use his platform to help the less fortunate. He also said that it was important for him to stay connected and give back to his hometown of Fresno. Green joined forces with Adidas Basketball and Project Backboard by renovating Koligian Park’s outdoor basketball court in the city of Fresno. On July 17, he unveiled the newly renovated court he grew up playing on with city officials and children from the Boys & Girls Club.
“I would love to give back. That is one of my dreams. Put on for my city, Fresno. Give back to my community,” Green said.
While Green is very proud of his African American heritage, he has a fondness for his Filipino heritage as well.
The NBA currently has another player who is Black and Filipino in Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson. Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is also Filipino and white. Green’s grandfather, who first put a basketball in his hands, is Filipino.
Green first visited the Philippines during the 2018 NBTC tournament playing for the FilAm Sports USA team. While he scored 51 points in the championship game loss, the poverty he saw during that visit was unforgettable and made him grateful for his blessings.
“We stayed in a not really well-known area in Manila,” Green said. “It gave me a reality check to be thankful for what I had. I saw a little kid laying down on the sidewalk. We gave him a Clif Bar. He grabbed it and went straight back to sleep. That’s their life out there. They just live on their own without their parents. It gave me a reality check to be thankful for what I have.”
Jalen Green dunks during a game for Prolific Prep.
In 2019, Green returned to Manila to play in the NBTC tournament. He stunned the crowd with his scoring and his athleticism in a dunk contest. Filipino fans have since nicknamed him “Idol.” Green’s mother told The Undefeated that her family is from San Vicente, located on the northwestern side of the main island of Palawan in the Philippines. Purganan said her son is slowly learning the national language, Tagalog, and she hopes they can visit San Vicente in the coming years. Green hopes to one day visit Ilocos Sur, located on the mouth of the Mestizo River.
“When he goes back there, he feels at home,” Purganan said. “They treat him like family even though he is just an eighth of it. They still show him so much love. It’s amazing. We told him you have to learn some words so he can go back and talk.”
Said Green: “All the Filipino fans show me a lot of love. They follow me on Twitter. They are always retweeting my stuff. They call me an idol out there.”
Green made about $500,000 with the NBA G League Ignite in their inaugural season before entering the 2021 NBA draft. The Ignite was designed by the G League to play in G League competition with a mixture of veteran players and young players taking part in a one-year development program. Green continued to improve game by game during the pandemic season playing in the G League bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. He scored more than 20 points in eight of 15 games.
Shaw, the former G League Ignite head coach, has high hopes for Green.
“Jalen will absolutely be a star in the NBA,” Shaw told The Undefeated in a text message.
Ignite veteran Reggie Hearn previously told The Undefeated that Green first caught his attention by dunking on him during a team workout. The former Pistons guard said that Green continued to impress him as a teammate who had an elite work ethic and was constantly focused on improving his game in the bubble.
“He is pretty mature for his age,” Hearn told The Undefeated. “The driving force was his desire to be great. There was no secret he wanted to be the No. 1 overall pick and be the best he can be. You could see it with his habits and when it pertained to basketball.
“If he struggled with his shot, you would find him in the gym the next morning. Whether coaches picked him up or he took an Uber to the gym, he would be there a half-hour or an hour before practice. If we practiced 8:30 or 9, he was always there sweating after getting his early work in.”
With the Ignite headquartered in Walnut Creek, California, Green was aware of the rise in violence toward Asians in the San Francisco Bay Area last year and the Stop Asian Hate movement. He also promoted the Black Lives Matter movement in the G League bubble.
Green was very attentive when Shaw, the Ignite or the G League players talked about social injustice and racial issues, a source said. Green said he will continue to use his platform to promote positivity in the world.
“It was a tough time for everybody, especially with what’s going on with the Asian hate and the Black Lives Matter. It’s sad,” Green said.
The Rockets have drafted an electrifying athlete and scorer that may ease the loss of former star James Harden. Now, the Rockets, their fans and the city of Houston will get to know Green as their newest player.
When asked what the Rockets will think about his selection several years from now, Green said: “The Rockets are getting an exciting player. Someone who is always going to give himself. Someone who is goofy and likes to have fun. Someone who is going to always give 100%.”
Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.