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Experience and leadership: Xavier Green is using his role on the team to keep energy levels high

The Maryland men’s basketball graduate guard joined the team in the offseason after five years at Old Dominion.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

When Xavier Green moved from Florida to Williamsburg, Virginia as a middle schooler, he went to the rec center to play some basketball. At the time, no one in the area really knew him or much about his skill level at all. So, the kids around his age found a way to test him.

“I was at the rec center and everybody wanted to play me one-on-one,” Green said with a smile. “Literally there was a line full of people just playing me one-on-one and then I got my name around out there.”

Fast forward about a decade later and the graduate guard was playing defense while wearing a Maryland men’s basketball uniform in a close matchup on the road against Northwestern. The Terps were fighting for their first conference win in double overtime and Green played tough defense to force a Wildcats shot clock violation, playing a key role in Maryland’s victory.

After the play ended Green held up an “X” with his arms and seen in the background making the same motion with a smile on his face was guard Hakim Hart who has emerged as a strong defensive player for the Terps in his junior season.

“Xavier, he’s a great defender for us,” Hart said earlier this season. “He’s always locked in. Just learning from him just to stay locked each and every possession, that’s what he’s taught me about.”

Although this season for Maryland has been filled with a series of twists and turns from changes in the coaching staff to the outcome of some games, as the oldest player in the Big Ten at 25, Green has used his positivity and high energy to continue to motivate his teammates.

One way he does that is by throwing up the “X” after making big plays when he’s on the court.

“A lot of adversity, things happen for us but it happens for a reason. It’s making us stronger... my contributions to the team is probably like bringing that spark and always throwing up that X,” Green told Testudo Times. “It gets the guys going... keeps us moving, gets us energized.”

Green, who has built up a reputation as a defensive stopper for the team, is often tasked with coming off the bench to guard some tough players. When the Terps played then-No. 23 Wisconsin, he had the job of playing defense against one of the nation’s top guards in Johnny Davis. He helped hold Davis below his 22.6 average at the time. Davis scored just 19 points and did not walk away as the top scorer.

In that matchup, Green also had a season-high 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and two steals in his 27 minutes on the court.

“X is an experienced basketball player. He’s someone that’s received honors in the conference that he played in at Old Dominion as a defensive player and he’s got good size, he’s got good length, a good understanding of the game,” interim head coach Danny Manning said after the game against the Badgers. “And you know, he just came in and just wanted to make Davis work, was what we want them to do and he certainly did that.”

However, playing defense was not always a specialty for the graduate guard.

When he first arrived at Old Dominion, he took a redshirt year. In a story for The Virginian-Pilot, Monarchs head coach Jeff Jones explained that Green was behind defensively and was seemingly overwhelmed.

Green said he was not disappointed with the idea of redshirting because he knew he wasn’t ready when he first got to college for the 2016-17 season.

In that redshirt year, Green was guarding the Monarchs’ top players in practice. From Zoran Talley — who transferred to Iowa State — to Ahmad Caver who now plays in the NBA G League, Green guarded them all. In the summer, guard Trey Freeman, who is a professional player currently overseas, came back to Old Dominion and Green would get in reps defending him. NC State’s Anthony “Cat” Barber, who is also in the NBA G League, would visit Old Dominion in the offseason and the guard would practice defending him as well.

“I was always guarding the best player. So I was just naturally just I was getting better because I didn’t like to get scored on anyway,” Green said. “So it didn’t matter who you put in front of me, I was trying to play defense.”

And the hard work paid dividends. Green describes his redshirt experience as one that allowed him to work on the fundamental principles that make a strong defender: how to read different coverages, how to read people and learn their tendencies.

The following year, Green played in 31 games for the Monarchs and received the team’s Cal Bowdler Most Improved Player Award. In 2018-19, Green started in every game and earned Old Dominion’s Most Improved Player Award yet again and this time also earned the team’s Mark West Defensive Player of the Year honor.

As a sophomore that year, he was the MVP of the Conference USA Tournament, was named to the All-Tournament Team and was on the Conference USA All-Defensive Team. He averaged 9.6 points per game, 3.8 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.9 assists. He also shot 40.6% from the three that year.

His final two seasons were affected by the coronavirus pandemic but as a senior, he hit the 1,000-point mark for his collegiate career and played the fifth-most minutes per contest averaging 34.1 in Conference USA.

After the 2020-21 season, Green had a decision to make: what comes next? After being at Old Dominion for five seasons, the guard decided to transfer out of the program and play his final year at Maryland.

“Any option wouldn’t have been a bad option. But it’s kind of like what’s gonna be best for you,” Green said. “So I talked to my coaches a little bit but I wanted to make sure I made the right decision within myself. Cause, if you don’t want to do it, it don’t matter what anyone else thinks.”

Since coming to Maryland, a few words surrounding Green have popped up time and time again: energy, positivity and defense.

On the court, Green can be seen trying to help his team try to stifle top scorers in the moments they need him most.

“X is someone we feel comfortable playing on one through four. End of the game [against] Florida we put him on [guard Tyree] Appleby,” Manning said. “And Appleby, you know, takes a tough shot but X is right there in front of them to contest so he brings a lot of intangibles to the table defensively.”

Green has made an appearance in all 21 games this season, just one of seven Terps to do so. He’s averaging 18.2 minutes per game, two points, 2.8 rebounds and has 18 assists, 10 steals and two blocks.

However, it’s off the court where it seems his presence and experience are also heavily felt.

“He’s competitive as all hell but he’s always keeping it light with our guys,” manager Logan Brady told Testudo Times. “Especially, you know, this has been a long season. We’ve had a lot of changes, but he’s always found a way to keep guys positive and I love that, I love being around him.”

Brady describes Green as being the guy in the locker room who energizes everyone. He said that the graduate student plays his music while dancing around and pulling his teammates out of their chairs.

“He brings a lot of energy, in the locker room, you know, he always got a smile on his face,” senior guard Eric Ayala said in November. “He got that athleticism, being able to bounce around and guard most people... Just everything he brings just off the court, on the court, you know, he’s always got the energy.”

When it comes to embodying leadership, there are many ways Green tries to do so but he is also learning. He referred to sophomore guard Marcus Dockery as the “leader on the bench” and explained that the players who get on the court a little bit more may know more than him as well so he’s always learning from those around them but tries to radiate positivity.

He described a ritual the team has of a “fueling station.” Green explained that it’s about spreading positivity. He said that not everywhere he’s been or played did they focus on building each other up. That there are a lot of places that rather point out the negatives and what people didn’t do rather than what they did do well.

“I would say that’s one thing that I would try to lead and be better in is always encouraging [others] to be better or I’m always pumping air in others’ tire,” Green said.

With just 11 games remaining in the regular season, Green finds himself in a similar situation as he was following the 2020-21 season: what comes next?

Although that answer may not yet be so clear, the graduate guard knows he wants to help others and pay forward the help he received from others growing up.

But for now, in this next stretch of the season, Green has plans to continue being a positive light while energizing his teammates. In his eyes, motivating others has become one of Green’s roles on the team.

“Everybody can’t be the guy. Everybody can’t be the second option or the third option. Sometimes you got to do other stuff and I feel like that’s just what my role is,” Green told Testudo Times. “And my role can be different for other things, but I feel like if you could adapt that role, you could adapt a lot of other roles as well.”

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