NEW YORK — When freshman guard Phil Greene suits up for St. John’s Monday night in the season-opener against William & Mary, he is expected to be an integral part of a young team that will be without head coach Steve Lavin, who is recovering from prostate cancer.
The 6-foot-2, 178-pound Greene was a huge get for St. John’s, but his path to college was far from straight and direct.
He attended three high schools in two states — but they all had one thing in common.
Chicago native Loren Jackson coached Greene at each of his stops at Fenger High, Julian High and IMG Academy.
“He’s an excellent coach,” Greene told SNY.tv last week. “I look at him as a father figure. He’s been coaching me for like three, four years and I have a lot of trust in him.”
Jackson, who remains at IMG in Bradenton, Fla., grew up with Greene’s father, Philip Greene III, in Chicago and has always been close to the family.
“His dad and I grew up together since we’re about seven years old, so that’s a pretty long relationship,” Jackson said in a phone interview.
So every time Jackson switched schools, moving from Fenger to Julian to IMG, he brought Greene with him.
“Basically he would know in advance before the season would be over,” Greene said. “He would be like, ‘I’m thinking about taking this job offer and I would like for you to come with me.’
Greene added: “My father really wanted me to play with him because he knew he was a good coach and he grew up with him. He trusted him.”
Greene said changing schools within Chicago was nothing compared with the move South to Florida for last season.
“I know basically everyone in Chicago but going to Florida, it was tough because I almost didn’t go,” Greene said. “My mother didn’t want me to leave but my father thought it would be best to be ready for college and it was the best decision.”
Greene played at IMG alongside Jamari Traylor, a forward who committed to Kansas but is currently ineligible, and current UConn freshman DeAndre Daniels.
Greene said the structured environment at IMG helped him prepare for college. On the court, he averaged 23.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 3.0 steals to lead IMG to a 35-16 record.
“They got me prepared mentally, physically,” he said. “Waking up early. They had a schedule. IMG is a good place to go to be prepared for college.”
Greene surprised many fans in his first exhibition game at St. John’s, starting and scoring 20 points on 4-of-6 from beyond the arc in a 110-80 win over C.W. Post.
Yet in a 77-70 win over St. Mary’s, he came off the bench and managed just four points on 1-of-6 shooting.
“He can make shots,” Jackson said. “He can score in abundance, but he may go on 8-0 and 10-0 runs by himself.”
Greene figures to play both point guard and off guard this season since St. John’s has no pure floor general.
Greene, former junior college guard Nurideen Lindsey and sophomore Malik Stith figure to split minutes at the point.
“Sometimes we’re out there at the same time, whoever gets the ball just go,” Greene said.
Jackson believes that Greene’s best bet to play professionally is to cultivate his point guard skills.
“In order for him to be a pro, he’s going to have to play the point,” he said. “He’s not tall enough to play the two in that league.
“But hopefully that’s something he can develop there.”
Greene and Jackson remain very close, and the IMG coach knows his old pupil has a high ceiling at St. John’s.
“I think that Phil is a very special player,” he said. “He’s a big-time contributor.”