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March 14, 2007

ORU's Green no longer overlooked

MORE: Ten more little-known players to watch

Oral Roberts forward Caleb Green sounds like a typical five-star recruit when he discusses his college selection process.

"Duke was recruiting me, and North Carolina," Green said.

Then he ends the charade by letting out a hearty chuckle.

"I'm just joking," Green said. "The only school I turned down was Southwest Texas (now known as Texas State)."

Green might not have entered college as a blue-chip prospect, but the 6-foot-8 senior has been paying major dividends for Oral Roberts ever since he arrived on campus.

The three-time Mid-Continent Conference player of the year will attempt to continue his brilliant college career Thursday when the 14th-seeded Golden Eagles (23-10) face No. 3 seed Washington State (25-7) in the NCAA East Regional in Sacramento, Calif.

This game represents a chance for Green to boost his NBA stock while adding his name into NCAA Tournament lore.

Every year, some player from a midmajor school instantly becomes a household name after engineering an improbable postseason upset.

  • Fennis Dembo led Wyoming to the Sweet 16 in 1987 and found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated's college basketball preview issue the following season.

  • Valparaiso guard Bryce Drew took one of the most memorable shots in tournament history when he made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to stun Ole Miss in the first round of the 1998 Midwest Regional.

  • One year later, Weber State's Harold "The Show" Arceneaux briefly owned the most famous nickname in college sports after scoring 36 points in an opening-round upset of North Carolina.

    Green has as good a chance as anyone to add his name to the list.

    He has averaged 20.8 points per game each of the last two years and already is his conference's all-time leading scorer. Green also is a tenacious rebounder who has such a knack for drawing contact that he has scored more points from the free-throw line (8.3 per game) this season than any other player in the nation.

    But Green doesn't seem too concerned about what this tournament could do for him. He's more interested in helping Oral Roberts regain its status as one of the nation's most respected basketball programs.

    Oral Roberts posted five consecutive 20-win seasons in the early 1970s, including an Elite Eight appearance in 1973-74. Oral Roberts moved to the NAIA level for a two-year period in the late 1980s and returned to the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since 1984.

    "I don't look at it as putting my name out there," Green said. "The team I play for, this program needs to be like it was known back in the old days as a basketball school. Putting Oral Roberts' name out there is my basic goal."

    This four-time all-conference player really doesn't need to make a name for himself anymore. Word has gotten around about the best-kept secret in college basketball.

    Green's status as the nation's most underrated player officially ended Nov. 15 when he collected 20 points and 11 rebounds in a 78-71 upset of a Kansas team that features potential NBA lottery picks Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur.

    "Caleb Green was the best player in the game," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Any NBA scout would tell you that Caleb was the best player out there."

    So how did one of the best players in the nation end up at Oral Roberts?

    Green wanted to make his college decision early in his senior year at Tulsa (Okla.) Memorial High. He chose to reward the school that had shown the most interest in him.

    He didn't receive many other offers despite being named the Oklahoma Class 6A player of the year his senior season. Green led Memorial to a state title his final season and compiled 19 points and 21 rebounds in the state championship.

    "Outside of other midmajors, he didn't draw a lot of interest," Memorial coach Eric Savage said. "I'm not sure the exact reason why. Some of the recruiters I won't name names thought he wasn't athletic enough to play at a higher level."

    Green has spent the last four years making those skeptics look silly. He led his conference in rebounding and field-goal percentage as a freshman while averaging 17.1 points per game. He earned honorable mention All-America honors each of the last two seasons.

    Green has been as good as ever this season. He averages 20.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and has developed into one of the nation's most consistent players. Green has scored at least 19 points in 14 consecutive games and has cracked the 20-point mark in each of his last nine games.

    "It's my responsibility," Green said. "I have to stay aggressive for my ballclub. I have to make a lot of plays. It's something I pride myself on doing. It's something I have to do."

    Green's comment reflects the businesslike approach he is taking into his final postseason. He downplays his accomplishments and refuses to gloat at his former critics.

    For example, here's what he had to say about that career-making performance against Kansas.

    "We caught Kansas at a down time," Green said. "They didn't play well. We were hitting everything. I don't know how much we can credit that to ourselves. It was just one of those things. When you come in and play well, anything can happen."

    Green even resisted the chance to take the bait when he was reminded of the following facts about the biggest programs in his home state.

    Oklahoma didn't pursue him.

    Neither did Oklahoma State.

    Oral Roberts is playing in the NCAA Tournament this week. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State aren't.

    "That's kind of a bad comparison," Green said. "They play in the Big 12. We're in the Mid-Continent."

    Green has no need to feel bitter toward any schools that failed to recruit him. He's too busy enjoying the last laugh.

    We've already noted how Oral Roberts forward Caleb Green might emerge in the next two weeks as the next Fennis Dembo or Harold "The Show" Arceneaux. Here's an alphabetical list of 10 other NCAA Tournament players who could make the most of their rare appearances in the spotlight. We restricted this list to players who weren't from schools in any of the RPI's eight top-rated conferences (Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Pac-10, Big Ten, Big East, Missouri Valley, Big 12 and Mountain West).
    Tristan Blackwood, G, Central Connecticut State : Central Connecticut State needs to stay hot from the perimeter to have any hope of competing with Greg Oden and top-seeded Ohio State. Good thing the Blue Devils have Blackwood, who is tied for fourth in the nation with 3.6 3-pointers per game. He sank 10 shots from beyond the arc in a regular-season victory over Robert Morris.
    Craig Bradshaw, F/C, Winthrop : Winthrop is known primarily for its perimeter attack, but this 6-foot-10 senior from New Zealand could determine whether the Eagles make any noise in the postseason. Bradshaw averaged 19.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game during the Big South Conference tournament.
    Stephen Curry, G, Davidson : The son of former Virginia Tech star and NBA shooting guard Dell Curry averaged 26.3 points per game in the Southern Conference tournament. This hot-shooting freshman has scored at least 20 points in 12 of his past 13 games.
    Chris Daniels, C, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi : The Southland Conference player of the year leads his team in scoring (15.2) and rebounding (6.6). This 7-foot senior owns the school record for career blocks and has shot 59.4 percent from the floor this season.
    Justin Hawkins, F, New Mexico State : Hawkins leads the Western Athletic Conference champions in points (15.7) and rebounds (6.8) and ranks third on his team in assists (2.3). He collected 29 points and 11 rebounds in a midseason upset of conference rival Nevada.
    Ibrahim Jaaber, G, Pennsylvania : The two-time Ivy League player of the year led his conference in assists (5.3), steals (3.0) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.81) while finishing second in the league in scoring (15.9). Jaaber is the Ivy League's all-time leader in steals.
    Trey Johnson, G, Jackson State : Johnson is the nation's second-leading scorer with 27.1 points per game. He averaged 31.7 points per game in matchups with Alabama, Illinois and Memphis this season.
    Aaron Nixon, G, Long Beach State : Chris Lofton won't be the only outstanding scorer in the Tennessee-Long Beach State game. Nixon has averaged 18.6 points per game this season on his way to becoming the Big West player of the year.
    Tim Pollitz, F, Miami (Ohio) : This 6-foot-6 junior is the main reason why the RedHawks are still playing. Pollitz averaged 21.3 points and 7.3 rebounds during the Mid-American Conference tournament.
    Jamar Wilson, G, Albany : This 6-foot-1 senior leads the Great Danes in points (18.6), rebounds (6.3) and assists (4.8). Taylor has been named the America East Conference player of the year each of the last two seasons.

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