Rock Chalk Weekly: The Clutch Gene
Written by Austin Karp, Kansas Communications Student Assistant
Cool, calm and collected.
Twenty seconds remained in a dogfight with No. 13 Utah when Kansas sophomore guard Brannen Greene stepped to the free throw line. He performed his pre-shot routine, channeled his inner Ray Allen and drained four high-pressure free throws. Jayhawks win, 63-60.
Only a few games later, with a stingy No. 21 Baylor squad trying to outlast the Jayhawks in Waco, head coach Bill Self called Greene’s number. Again, the marksman calmly approached the line and drained the first shot. Timeout Baylor. With a monumental free throw put on hold for a short break, Greene strolled back to the huddle at a leisurely pace.
“At that moment, the only thought that went through my head was, timeout, okay, time to go get some water,” Greene said.
With the Baylor crowd bearing down on him, Greene stepped back to the line, dribbled twice and put up his second attempt. Nothing but net. At that moment, Greene remained perfect from the line on the 2014-15 season and the Jayhawks escaped with a 56-55 win.
His streak of 21-consecutive made free throws, which dated back to last season, would come to an end against No. 19 Oklahoma, but with less than four minutes remaining and the Sooners up 71-70, Greene flashed his special skill once again. Sophomore guard Frank Mason III found a wide-open Greene at the top of the arc and as he does best, Greene knocked down a colossal three-pointer elevating the Jayhawks back in front. A lead they wouldn’t surrender again.
Following the Utah, Baylor and Oklahoma situations, Greene’s late-game heroics have caught the attention of the media. However, this is old business for the guard from Juliette, Georgia. Greene has developed a reputation over his career as being the guy who keeps his composure when the spotlights are on. From hitting big shots in high school, to draining some pivotal free throws for the Jayhawks, Greene shows he possesses something only a marginal number of players own: the Clutch Gene.
Inside a basketball player’s DNA, having the ability to be clutch can make the difference between winning and losing. It’s about being able to perform while the stakes are the absolute highest. Something Greene proves to be easy.
“When I think about being clutch, I just try to keep my composure, take deep breaths and try to focus in,” Greene said. “I’m a pretty confident shooter. But obviously at the end of the game, when it’s within a point or two, those are nerve-racking moments. I suppress everything, show off my confidence and just stay focused.”
Getting the ball is the first step. Entering the waning seconds of a close contest, Self’s strategy shifts focus to Greene. So does the opposition. Greene has been the team’s leading late-game free throw shooter in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, but his calm demeanor extends beyond the charity stripe. A clutch free throw shooter means a clutch shooter in general – something Greene takes great pride in. So when Self calls on the sophomore, a peaceful Greene shines in those moments.
“It really doesn’t create any additional pressure, I live for those situations,” Greene said. “It’s fun playing in big-time games like that where it’s a possession-by-possession battle. You don’t know which way the game is going to sway. It’s fun to me. I just go out there and I push those extra thoughts out of my head.”
Despite all of the additional attention, Greene proves to be very relaxed when approaching the line, especially away from Allen Fieldhouse. During the team’s first true road test of the 2014-15 season against Georgetown, Greene connected on four free throws as well as a perfect 5-for-5 shot chart from the three-point line, tallying a career-high 19 points and leading the Jayhawks to a 75-70 road victory.
In his freshman season, Greene gave his first major glimpse of what he can do in a ranked, rowdy environment when the game is on the line. He came off the bench against Kansas State to surge a comeback that forced an overtime session. During the late-game run, Greene was huge in going 4-for-4 from the charity stripe and racking up 10 points, bringing Kansas back into the fight.
Greene has demonstrated countless times his ability to tune out the background when entering a hostile atmosphere.
“Usually, the fans are saying something to try and get into your head,” Greene said. “When we were playing in Philly against Temple, at Georgetown and so far in Big 12 Conference play, there are always hecklers. There were even fans screaming to me about a car accident I had gotten in. I couldn’t even tell you how they found out, but fans can get ruthless. It was just like when I was in high school. We had rival games against Westlake, Lamar County and teams like that. We would go there and all the fans got into it, including parents. There were always shouting matches in the stands. It got crazy.”
The clutch gene didn’t develop overnight. No, the storyline of obtaining this superpower expands back to his early days. From the beginning of his basketball career at Tift County High School, Greene was trusted with the ball when his team needed someone to rise up and make a play. That cool, calm and collected attitude seen today – well, that didn’t come overnight either.
“When I was younger, I was put in those high-pressure situations and I was a lot more nervous,” Greene said. “I’ve missed free throws as a result, but as I got older and advanced through high school, it turned into more of a comfort thing. People would think I would get super nervous at the line, but I wouldn’t. They would just feel like shots to me.”
In just his sophomore year of high school, Greene had already established the foundation of his comfort zone. When the regional tournament rolled around, Greene flashed a series of late-game heroics by draining five-consecutive three-pointers to win an overtime thriller, advancing his squad to the next round.
Greene emphasized another occasion during his junior season that spotlighted his ability to come up clutch in the final seconds.
“We were playing Westlake, a school which is our crosstown rival.” Greene said. “They had a player who had just transferred to us. I hit a three with a little over 50 seconds remaining, which tied up the game. I then hit the game-winning three with six seconds left and the crowd went absolutely nuts.”
By the end of his time at Tift County High School, Greene had earned the reputation of being a clutch shooter among his coaches and teammates. At the conclusion of his senior campaign, Greene averaged 27 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals per game in leading the Blue Devils to a 26-5 record and the Class 6A quarterfinals.
His success on the court came with a heavy slate of accolades. For starters, Greene earned a four-star rating and was positioned at No. 47 on the ESPN 100 and the No. 29 rated prospect by Rivals.com. He was named the 2013 Gatorade Georgia Boys Basketball Player of the Year, honored as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution 2013 Player of the Year, and titled Georgia’s 2013 Mr. Basketball.
Greene was ready to take his talents to the next level; the question was where would he end up?
His father, Jeffrey Greene, was a key factor in helping his son reach the final decision. Jeffrey played college basketball about two hours south of Lawrence at Pittsburg State University and experienced enormous success in his two seasons of play. He totaled 1,292 points over a 56-game span during the 1987-88 and 88-89 seasons, ranking eighth-highest on the school’s career scoring list. He holds the two-year scoring total record, and he posted a single-season record of 716 points in 1988.
Jeffrey used his own experience to help guide his son through the decision process. With a laundry list of top-tier programs vying to land the four-star prospect, Greene ultimately chose the University of Kansas over many schools including: Connecticut, Florida, Florida State, Harvard, Louisville, Memphis and Ohio State.
“The main thing I did when he was being recruited by several schools was to take him out on several unofficial visits,” Jeffrey said when asked about his son’s recruiting process in an article that appeared in Crimson & Blue Gameday Magazine (11/22/13). “He became familiar with a lot of different campuses and coaches. I also wanted him to match his skillset with a program where he would make the biggest impact. We both came to the decision that the community of Lawrence, coach Bill Self and the Jayhawk program would be an ideal fit for him.”
In December of 2011, Greene verbally committed to Kansas to join an elite group of freshmen, which featured Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, the first and third picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, and current teammates Wayne Selden Jr., and Frank Mason III. Right from the get-go, Greene was practicing against players with NBA ability. This allowed him to groom his game against the finest talent in the NCAA. The frequency of practicing with his highly-skilled teammates created various challenges for Greene, but it pushed him to play with even more confidence.
“You’re always challenged in practice by both Coach Self and with your teammates,” Greene said. “It’s not always what you expect every day. It’s similar in game situations; you’re put in positions you’re not expected to be in. The defense throws at you all sorts of things you’re not expecting, so it’s about how you react. It’s something you develop as a person and as a player to ultimately become more poised.”
Playing at Kansas has helped Greene’s clutch persona evolve off the court as well. Up until ninth grade, Greene was a shy individual. He struggled with everything from approaching a girl and asking her out, to meeting with the media following a win. Now you’ll see him walking with his girlfriend through the tutoring center any day of the week and interacting among thousands of people throughout Jayhawk nation.
“When I was growing up, I was definitely a shy person,” Greene said. “I didn’t like meeting people as much. Now that I’ve expanded my game at the University of Kansas level, I’m exposed to the media and fans. It’s gotten much easier to get out there and interact with all the fans, parents and kids. It makes me more comfortable around people.”
Greene has appeared in all 18 games for the Jayhawks thus far and his role with the squad continues to increase. As his minutes rise, so do his point, rebound and assists totals. Above all, when Kansas has a slim lead and the clock is running down, expect the ball to end up with the player with clutch coded in his DNA.
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- Faces in the Crowd
- Sydney Conley Feature
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- Fuel Recipe of the Week
- A Look Back
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