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Morgan Green: A Beginner’s Mind

Based off the piercing glower that gleams through her eyes and the way she torches her competition on a nightly basis, it’s easy to simply dub Morgan Green a special talent; one of those elite players equipped with gifted natural born skills to put the ball in the basket at will.

It’s hard to believe that in actuality, Green is a practitioner of the Zen Buddhist mindset.

And her fiery competitive drive, one that has arguably been the junior guard’s strongest attribute, is charged by her firm belief in a particular concept of the philosophy.

The remainder is etched forever on her left forearm. A brush stroked circle that encapsulates Shoshin. Beginner’s mind — a concept that urges the individual to remain a learner always, with openness, eagerness, and a lack of preconceptions.

For the long eclectic journey that Green has taken to become one of the most dominant players that the UC Irvine women’s basketball team and the Big West Conference has seen in years, it has ultimately been the hunger to learn and to stay a learner that has propelled her to such heights.

“If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
-Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Morgan Green’s preparation process for any given game begins the moment her last game ends.
She is meticulous about her opponents, constantly reviewing film to figure out their tendencies as well as the different ways she could exploit them on the offensive. She is also careful about how her team is performing, watching footage from their past few games at least three times over, often all the way through.

On game days, however, Green’s day begins at 5:45am. with a regular hour-long meditation session, a period she uses to prep her mind. She will return to building this frame of mind right before game time.

Roughly an hour and twenty minutes before tip-off, she performs her regular shooting and dribbling series, one that she has modeled after God Shammgod, a current assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks made famous by his prolific ball handling skills. These are all of muscle memory and are embedded in Green’s regular ritual.

But what remains the special component in Green’s preparation occurs in the locker room moments before her team runs out of the tunnel, in that same space that she starts her day with, the space that she finds herself in when she cups her hands, forming a circle, or finds when she looks at the apposite meaning on the tattoo on her left forearm.

It tells her that no matter how much she has achieved, mastered, or gone through, she has to approach the pending game as she has approached the beginnings of every experience that has come to shape her, that is, with the openness and eagerness of a beginner.

There are many beginnings to Morgan Green’s Story.

Perhaps it starts in Jamaica where Green was born, or in Brooklyn where she grew up; maybe the chapter begins with the time she spent in Arkansas or her years bouncing around cities in NorCal and SoCal. Then again, there was her six-month stay in Guangzhou, China when she was 12, followed by her quick return to the Golden State.

Considering how often she moved, not to mention the fact that her mother—the only stable component in her formative years—spent much time away from home to attend law school and later, to work at a firm, it would not be surprising to come away with the assumption that Green’s travels were taxing to her childhood development.

But she doesn’t see it that way.

“It was honestly a blessing,” Green said of her travels. “I think it was really cool to take in a lot of different cultures and to immerse myself into different environments.”

Green seized the opportunity she spent on the road to build her character and adapt knew customs, some of which included learning to speak Creole from her Haitian babysitter in Brooklyn and a little bit of Mandarin with her caretaker in Guangzhou. Whenever she had the chance to try a new cuisine, listen to a new song, take part in a new custom, she did.

That intuitive curiosity and eagerness for exploration became near obsessive once Green began to develop an interest in athletics, which would really take off at a local Boys and Girls Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas where Green found herself compulsively attempting to play as many sports as she possibly could. Her first official taste of such competition came at the age of 10 in the most extreme of circumstances: tackle football. Playing on the Purple People Eaters as the only female wide receiver and starting safety on the team, Green picked up on the game’s intensity, aggression, and grit, skills that she believes has helped her with basketball, the second sport that she would go on to play at the club.

“It just [gave me] that grit,” Green said of her experiences out in the field. “I hate to give up, I don’t like to lose and with football it’s just really intense and it’s really high energy…it’s that ‘go get them’ type spirit and that’s what I do with my opponents…don’t give them any day light…to establish that mindset.”

Tackle football was a fun experience for Green, but with organized basketball, it was true love right from the moment she was given the opportunity to step on the court.

Prior to playing in her first official contest at the club in Arkansas, basketball remained a second-hand experience for Green during her time in Brooklyn since she never had a chance to actually play at such an early age. Watching NBA games compulsively, however, bid well for Green’s development, taking into account her intuition as a heavy thinker, always looking to build on her ever growing encyclopedic knowledge of the game.

“Being a student of the game is not something that is new to me,” Green said. “I’ve been that before I was even playing. Just watching it obsessively.”

Green poured in hours on end dissecting and picking apart moves from NBA superstars, some of which included the likes of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, her childhood idol who inspired her to reach to achieve the “Point God” rather than simply the point guard type of status by being a complete player, willing to do everything for the team’s success. Nash is one of the reasons why she dons the number 13 today.

Given her amalgamated education of the game, the lessons as crossover dribbles, step-back jumpers, dribble drives; the professors provided by the greats that she compulsively observed, it was only appropriate that one of the first ever moves she would pull off in her debut at the club would be an athletic gliding reverse lay-up, a rendition of the reverse dunk perfected by Andre Iguodala in the 2006 dunk contest.

“It’s not typical for a lot of 10 year olds to do stuff like that,” Green recalls of the move. “My mom was like, ‘Where did you learn that? Where did you get that from?’ and I was like ‘Mom, Andre Iguodala just did it in the dunk contest…this is ‘the Iguodala.’”

From there, Green approached basketball with the same attitude that she had adapted in picking up unique customs and practices from the different cultures through her upbringing, essentially playing where she could. When she moved to Guangzhou two years later, she joined the Guangzhou Youth Basketball League (GYBL), a little league sponsored by Nike and Adidas that had consisted of many players from the international institutions there. When she returned to the States and was situated in San Jose, California, she balanced track and field with basketball at Pacific Collegiate Prep and became a star athlete in both.

Despite earning sponsorships and scholarship considerations for track, Green was driven by the constant challenges imposed by basketball and was driven by the prospect of constantly refining and rebuilding her game on the hardwood as opposed to the tartan track.

“I tried to balance out both sports, but it was very clear to me that there was no competition [with track] and I wanted to explore basketball,” Green said. “It’s always been a goal of mine to run for Jamaica [someday], but I’d rather accomplish some things on the basketball court first. Jamaica has plenty of runners. We don’t have enough basketball players out there.”

Still, track and field, as tackle football, added yet another arsenal, another schema that she could draw from with regards to endurance and core training.

Clearly dedicating her time to basketball, Green led her high school program to a state title, all in the while garnering more and more experience whenever she could by playing club ball for, as she swears, virtually every team in NorCal and SoCal, which includes the Sacramento Sting and the East Bay Xplosion, where she met coach Mark Anger, her future college coach at Chabot College in Hayward, California.

While her first year at Chabot was a glorious one in which she took Chabot College 2014-2015 Female Athlete of the Year honors after leading the team averaging 22.1 points per game, Green’s determination for competition drove her to transfer to Michigan State.

Spending her sophomore year of collegiate eligibility with a winning program, Green saw action in NCAA tournament play, earning 34 minutes in the first round against Belmont and a starting role in the second round against Mississippi State.

Green found that winning, however, is not always joyous. Despite the team’s overall success, Green did not see eye to eye with head coach Suzy Merchant, and before long, found herself looking for another new start.

Enter head coach Tamara Inoue and the young core at UC Irvine.

It didn’t take long for Green to get acclimated to the team at UC Irvine. With 10 newcomers on the squad, Green came into a struggling program looking to cultivate success.

Green has confronted the challenge well, coming back from a few shoulder injuries to make her debut right on time for the start of conference play to lead the team with 24.1 points per game, scoring thirty points in three different outtings while tying her season-high of 31 points on two of those occasions.

With Green leading the charge, the ‘Eaters, who were selected to finish second to last in preseason media and coaches polls are currently sitting at second in the conference with a good chance of winning the Big West Championships and heading to just their second NCAA tournament since 1995.

“My personal and overall goal [this year] is to win the Big West Championship and for us all to get rings by the end of the season and to get to the NCAA tournament,” Green said. “We want to see if we could shock some people…we have some surprising elements.”

Today, Green is still the same player that she was 12 years ago, swooping up reverse lay-ins at the Boys and Girls Club in Arkansas. She still pays careful attention to the best in the game, watching Kyrie Irving and James Harden, studying their moves, seeing what she can someday emulate and add to her own game. Prior to every game, she still meditates, cupping her hands and peering at her tattoo.

And yet the uniformity of this pattern, the paradox of keeping a routine of taking a fresh and clear mind has enabled her to remain an elite player at all levels.

For basketball and in life, Green continues to approach each and every experience as a novice would, constantly seeing wonder in the world, learning as she goes along.