He claims “unicorn” status with the confidence of a dude who can do pretty much anything on the court, but it’s an offcourt trait that really sets Jalen Green apart from his peers. “I don’t really play video games,” he says. “I don’t even watch TV. It’s just never been me. I’ll turn on a game sometimes, but I’m more of an outside person.”
It must be a Cali thing. No doubt, for those born and raised in the Golden State, all that warmth and sunshine makes it easy to skip the console and the big screen to spend your time outdoors. It’s consistent with the laid-back, West Coast vibe that Green embodies off the court even as he defies it in the gym. Understand, there is nothing laid back about this 6-6, 180-pounder from the Central Valley when it comes to basketball.
A consensus top-3 prospect in the 2020 class, Green entered his junior season at Fresno’s San Joaquin Memorial HS looking to prove both his own top-dog status and the supremacy of his home turf. Citing fellow left coast products like Josh Christopher and Cassius Stanley, Green says, “Cali hoopers are better than East Coast hoopers, hands down. You notice that we all have swag, we all dogs. I feel like we’re slept on because of the word ‘California,’ like they think we’re soft or something. That’s not the case. I just feel like we’re the swaggiest and most dog on the court.”
You can see all that in the highlight clips, the complete package of handles and jumpers and poster-creating finishes that confirms his game as one of the nicest in the nation—and helps explain why so many of those admittedly-way-too-early 2021 mock drafts feature his name at the very top. But if “swaggiest” and “most dog” aren’t tangible enough for you, more concrete proof can be found on his résumé: Freshman All-American honors and National Sophomore of the Year nods from MaxPreps, gold medals in the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup and back-to-back Southern California sectional championships. Oh, and he won World Cup MVP honors with a team-high 15.7 ppg last summer as the US went 7-0 en route to the gold.
“I’m 16, already got two gold medals—I mean, it’s pretty crazy,” Green says.
That MVP outing came during a 2018 summer in which he also showed out against college-level competition in the Philippines (his mother’s lineage is Filipino), scoring 51 points in a playoff game, and dominated his comp on the adidas circuit back home. He says it’s all in keeping with the necessary mindset for a dude who is quickly becoming one of the most talked-about prep ballers in the country.
“This year I think I have more of a dog mentality. People know me, so they try to say ‘overrated,’ things like that. It motivates me. They say I’m lazy, I don’t play defense, I can’t shoot, all that good stuff. I just use that to get better. But as long as I come with that dog mentality—like, I really do this.”
For a more recent example, you can check his 33-point outing against his former USA Basketball roommate Nico Mannion in December; it’s consistent with the kind of work he puts in pretty much nightly, no matter the matchup or the stage. Like any real-life unicorn, Green feels his size, skill set and mindset make him pretty much unstoppable. Family and close friends provide glue that holds it all together.
“I got a tight circle,” he says. “My mom always preaches staying humble, and I think that’s the one thing that’s worked so far. The same way I look for coaches who are going to keep it 100 with me, tell me what I need to hear, not just what I want to hear. Don’t sugarcoat it. Just be honest with me. That’s what I need to get to that next level.”
Ryan Jones is a Contributing Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter at @thefarmerjones.
Portrait by Adam Joseph Brochstein.