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Vin Sylvia: It's easy being Green
Bedford's Connor Green raises a fist in triump as the final seconds tick down on Amherst College's 87-70 victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III championship game at Atlanta's Philips Arena Sunday afternoon. Green, a freshman guard out of Bishop Guertin High in Nashua and Phillips Exeter Academy, scored 16 points off the bench.COURTESY
Not that Green was complaining, mind you. As weekends go, his was a pretty good one.
A Bedford resident and Bishop Guertin High of Nashua graduate who prepped for a year at Phllips Exeter Academy, Green was back at Amherst (Mass.) College Tuesday, trying to catch up on some rest and preparing for a Wednesday astronomy quiz after playing a key role for the Lord Jeffs in Sunday's championship victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor of Beltin, Texas.
Coming off the bench, the 6-foot, 4-inch freshman guard scored 16 points in as many minutes as Amherst dominated MHB, 87-70. It was Green's second championship in three years, following the 2011 NHIAA Division I title with BG, which capped a season for which he was named New Hampshire Union Leader All-State Player of the Year.
This was a bit different, though. For that matter, it was something different from anything the NCAA had ever done.
For the first time, the NCAA staged its three men's basketball championships in the same city on the same weekend. Sandwiched between Saturday's Division I semifinals and Monday's final at the 75,000-seat Georgia Dome was a Sunday doubleheader at Philips Arena, home of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, After Amherst beat Mary Hardin-Baylor before almost 7,000 fans in the first game, Drury University of Missouri edged Metro State of Colorado, 74-73, before close to 8,000 in the Division II final. Both games were nationally televised on the CBS Sports Network.
That wasn't all. All four smaller-school finalists were introduced to the Georgia Dome crowd during the Division I semis, and the two winners returned to be introduced as national champions during TV time-outs on Monday night.
"It was an incredible experience - the entire weekend," Green said. "Going to the Final Four, winning a national championship, the reception we got there from the biggest crowd ever to see a national championship game, playing in an NBA arena ... To go down there and accomplish what we set out to accomplish and to do it in that atmosphere was just a great experience."
Making it even more special was sharing the experience with his family, which includes a couple of other pretty fair athletes. Younger sister Meghan Green, a Boston University-bound forward who led BG to this year's NHIAA girls' Division I final, flew down from New Hampshire with their mother, Susan Kallio. Older brother Chris Green, also a BG graduate, made the trip from Union College, where he is a football player. His father, Mark Green, made the trip down from New York.
Mary Hardin-Baylor had a bigger student rooting section, Connor Green said, but Amherst fans held their own.
"With all the friends, family and alumni we had there," he said, "it felt pretty even in the arena in terms of crowd support."
Those people knew going in what Green and the rest of the Lord Jeffs could do. Now thousands more know that there's some pretty good basketball played at the Division III level.
"We showed the kinds of talented teams and talented players you can find in Division III," Green said. "The NCAA did a great job of promoting us to fans of college basketball."
Some of those players, he said, are capable of playing Division I ball - though as good as the Division II and III teams were, the talent on the court and size of the crowd at the Georgia Dome made it abundantly clear the Louisvilles and Michigans of the college basketball world occupy a different realm.
"That was a crazy feeling - being out there in front of that many people," Green said. "I can't even imagine playing in front of that many people.
"Seven thousand was good enough for me, though."
Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @vinsylvia.