It’s a chilly, but sunny Friday afternoon in Valencia. Most people are getting a jumpstart on weekend plans or taking in the sunshine on a stroll around the College of the Canyons campus.
First-year Cougars assistant women’s basketball coach Hannah Green and a handful of players are putting in extra work at the Cougar Cage, staying late on their own and working to get better.
Green, who holds the Canyons all-time record for blocks in a game (15) and in a season (198), is demonstrating some post moves to three of her players.
It’s no surprise that Green also is putting in extra work as a 23-year-old first-time coach. Cougars head coach Greg Herrick said Green worked hard “every second” in her two seasons at Canyons (2014-16).
“She’s a great teacher in practice. A lot of people don’t get how important that is, and she does,” Herrick said. “I’m glad she’s here and she’s going to be great for us. I think she’s going to be a big addition to our program.”
Green started playing basketball as a freshman in ninth grade at West Ranch, when former Wildcats athletic director Dody Garcia spotted her on the court.
She originally was going to play tennis, but Garcia said she had a knack for hoops.
“I had no plans of playing basketball in high school. We were just playing basketball one day and (Garcia) said I should try out for the basketball team,” Green said. “That’s really how it started. Dody is the one who really sparked it all because she saw that I could play. My growth and potential came a lot later than most.”
While it was Garcia who first noticed Green’s skill in high school, her development and game started to flourish under Herrick.
After receiving a scholarship to Division II Sonoma State out of high school, Green returned home and decided Canyons was the place for her to grow her game.
Though she had to wait her turn to show what she could do, Green remained patient and kept working hard, earning herself more playing time as her freshman season progressed.
Come her sophomore campaign, Green led the state in blocks and averaged 14 points per game and led the Western State Conference with 13.8 rebounds per game.
Her play at Canyons earned her a scholarship to Division I Illinois State, where she averaged 12.5 points, six rebounds and two blocks per game in her senior year. She also led the Missouri Valley Conference in blocks.
“My first year was definitely a struggle going from a community college-level to all of a sudden Division I. It was a big jump, but I was so blessed to be able to do it because it was such a challenge and such a great experience,” Green said. “I have so many good things to say about Illinois State.I was able to develop in all areas of life on and off the court.”
After graduation, Green came home for a short period of time to train before heading off to Sweden to play professionally for Wetterbygden Basket.
After two months she moved to Portugal and signed with S.L. Benfica, one of the top clubs in Portugal, where she played for another two months before coming back home.
“I was overseas for about four months. It was a great experience, and I’m really glad I got to do it. There was a lot of things I didn’t consider I was so gung-ho. I was like I’m doing this, this is my career, I’m going to play overseas, I’m going to play in the WNBA, which has always been a dream of mine,” she said. “I really didn’t take into consideration the sacrifices that I was going to be making in order to do that. I decided personal things in my life, my body and what it was really going to look like for me, I decided that’s not what I wanted it to look like.”
Less than 24 hours after touching back down in Southern California, Green reached out to Herrick and expressed her interest in coaching.
A day later, Green was in Herrick’s office and he brought her to practice to help out, still jet-lagged and all.
“She came to me the day before Thanksgiving — I thought she was still in Europe,” Herrick recalled. “I said to her, ‘What’s going on; is your season over?’ She said it just didn’t work out, and I knew because my son played football in Germany and he struggled with the homesickness thing and the barriers, so I knew. I saw the look on her face. I’ve seen that face; my son had it.
“She said to me, ‘I was thinking of coaching and what better place to do that then the place that changed my life.’”
Green joined Canyons coaching staff officially, and it’s been a tremendous experience for her, Herrick and the players.
She is learning from one of the best coaches in women’s basketball, an innovator of the fast break, and he’s got an enthusiastic coach who he hopes will one day take the reigns from him when he decides to retire.
And the players have someone who has been in their shoes and knows what it takes to succeed.
“Coach Herrick wasn’t playing me at all my first year. I was sitting on the bench and this is where my inspiration came to other people. Look what I did, from a Division II-dropout, I came here, sat on the bench and I didn’t play at all,” Green said. “When my opportunity came, I took advantage of it. I worked so hard, and it’s not to brag, but I went from that to being a professional and my name is in the locker room and I broke records and I got a Division I scholarship.”
While Green hasn’t completely ruled out returning to play professional ball, she is focused on the Canyons program and helping continue the legacy that Herrick started.
“Basketball is my first love and that was one of the hardest things when I decided to stop doing it. That’s setting in now, that competitive side of it. It’s gone in that sense of I have a jersey on me, that part’s gone,” she said. “It’s like a relationship. I broke up with someone, it’s kind of that feeling.
“Never say never. I’m not someone to say that because I still love to play, but I’m focused here. There’s potential for me here, head coach, not only here but anywhere,” she said. “So I’m just deciding what I want to do and what my future is going to look like.”