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To UNC's Green, all he knows is what he believes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The date is practically the same. For Danny Green, it is only the world that has changed.

At this moment, two years ago, Green was a freshman in his second semester at North Carolina. The Tar Heels had been upset by George Mason early in the NCAA Tournament, so an 18-year-old Green was busy catching up on his studies. He had no idea that a ringing cell phone would essentially mean the end of his youth.

The call was from a friend in the old neighborhood in New York. You better call home, the friend said, there are cops crawling all over your house.

Green dialed the number but no one picked up. He kept trying his father's cell phone, but that went unanswered, too. Hours passed before an uncle finally called to say Daniel Green Sr. had been arrested and charged with operating a multimillion-dollar cocaine distribution network.

"He said, 'Don't panic. It's a big misunderstanding,'  '' Danny Green recalled Friday in the UNC locker room. "I knew they had the wrong guy."

•••

Later this evening, North Carolina will play Louisville with the winner returning to the Final Four for the first time since 2005. Whichever team prevails, there will be talk of perseverance. Of triumph over adversity, and of faith and dedication in times of great difficulty. And, in the proper context, the stories will all be true.

But real adversity goes far beyond a basketball court, and true faith has nothing to do with believing in your next jump shot. With that in mind, you may want to listen to Danny Green's story.

•••

They were four guys, living alone and loving nearly every minute of it. Danny's mother moved out when he was 11, so he and two younger brothers were left in the care of their father, an elementary school teacher and girls basketball coach on Long Island.

The boys' grandmother would help when she could, but the brothers also looked out for each other. And they adored their father.

"He raised us. He was always there for us," Danny said. "He supported us in everything we did."

This is why, all this time later, he refuses to believe his father was part of a drug smuggling operation. This is why he has refused to be embarrassed, and is willing to talk openly.

This is why, for the past two years, he has written the initials ASNF — A Son Never Forgets — on his sneakers. The line is from the Robert De Niro-Cuba Gooding Jr. movie Men of Honor. Green had seen the movie some years earlier, and the line had struck a chord.

Now, he decided, he was going to live the line. He would believe in his father, despite the headlines. He would accept every collect call from the River­head correctional facility. He would make it home as often as he could to help his grandmother raise his brothers.

"It's impossible for anybody to understand what Danny has gone through," coach Roy Williams said. "I tried to tell him, 'Hey, I don't understand, I don't know, but I'm here for you.'  ''

With $5-million and 462 pounds of cocaine involved, bail was set at more than $7-million. Even when a grand jury handed up a lesser charge of conspiracy, bail was still beyond Green's reach at $4.5-million. So he sat in jail, awaiting trial, for 18 months before prosecutors came to him with an offer. If he would plead guilty to reduced charges, he would get a sentence of 1-3 years, including time served. If his case went to trial, Green would be looking at the possibility of 8-25 years.

"I didn't want him to take the deal. I told him to keep fighting until the end because he was innocent," Danny said. "But he said he couldn't take the chance."

Green entered a guilty plea late last year and, by Jan. 28, had been granted parole. That Monday night he was back home on Long Island with his younger sons when the door opened and Danny walked in.

"He was shocked," Danny said. "He said, 'What are you doing here? Do they know you left? You're going to get in trouble.'  ''

Danny had told Williams about his father's release, so the coach gave him permission to skip a couple of days of practice. Danny brought his ACC championship ring from the year before, a slew of news­paper clips and DVDs of Carolina games to give to his father.

"When he was inside, he tried to watch me as much as he could," Danny said. "Some of the other guys wanted to watch other games, so he had to get some of the big boys on his side to watch us."

•••

The career has not gone as planned. Maybe it had something to do with the additional pressure of worrying about his dad and brothers, or maybe he just didn't quite measure up.

Whatever the reason, Green has put together a steady, but not spectacular, career. He is fourth on the team in scoring and second in rebounds, but has started only one game.

These days, playing time doesn't seem to bother him as much as in the past. He plays the role asked of him, and then waits for the postgame call from his father. Daniel Sr. has not seen a game in person since leaving prison because the terms of his parole do not allow him to leave the state.

If UNC wins tonight, he will go to his parole officer Wednesday and ask for permission to travel to San Antonio, Texas, for the Final Four. Danny doesn't hold out much hope.

But that's okay, he said. Even if his dad is not at the Alamodome, it would be enough to know he was at home.

After all, a son never forgets.

To UNC's Green, all he knows is what he believes 03/28/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 11:04pm]
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