The last time I went up against an NBA player was in the 2013 FIBA U17 World Cup. I played against Jayson Tatum, Malik Monk, Terrance Ferguson, Harry Giles, and Josh Jackson. That was in a real tournament and we were blown out by 50. The talent level and athleticism were the biggest takeaways for me. But I can share that entire experience in a different article.
This time with Jalen Green, though, was very different. It was a pick-up game -- no pressure, show-your-skills type of vibe. No play calls. No timeouts. No game plan, just pure hoop. And Jalen was having fun, maybe going 50-60 percent against us. Making enough for a highlight reel that could go viral on social media: stepback 3s, alley-oop dunks, 360s, and ankle breakers. It didn't seem real.
The first reaction I had when I was matched up with him was that he is tall. That’s usually the reaction I have, though, since I’m usually the smallest on the court. But with Jalen, he is a legit 6-foot-6 point guard that can handle the ball better than anyone in the Philippines. For context, Ian Sangalang is 6-foot-6. Imagine having to guard someone as tall as him who also handles the ball like Mikey Williams. His talent level and athleticism are insane. You can't question why he was picked No. 2 overall in last year’s draft.
On that same possession, I tried to defend him. I gave him a little space because I didn't want to get dunked on. He hit me with an in-and-out, behind-the-back crossover, between-the-legs, stepback-hesi into a 3-pointer. Swish. He danced like it was nothing and gave me a high-five. Crazy talent. What’s even crazier is he’s just 20 years young.
Jalen’s work ethic is different. He made sure to travel with Houston Rockets head trainer coach Willie Cruz. The first thing he did when he got to Manila was to get a workout in. Jet-lagged and all, he still found time to work on his craft. Then, he went on to do his events and appearances for adidas.
After a long and tiring day, he woke up early the next day to lift and work on his conditioning (something that he wanted to work on this offseason). This was before the open runs with all the other adidas athletes. It didn't seem like he came from a full workout, though, when he played because he torched every single defender on the court.
I think this is what separates NBA-level players from the rest. Take someone with Jalen’s length, athleticism, and talent then combine that with hard work, professionalism, and humility, you'll get a young NBA star with so much potential.
When it's a rest day, though, he really takes time to rest. On his third day in the Philippines, we flew with Jalen to Ilocos where his family comes from. One thing I can say is that Jalen loves Filipino dishes. He was trying everything from Ilocos empanadas to okoys and lumpias (one of his favorites). He loves trying new experiences as well. He tried riding around the town in a kalesa. He also bought a hat from one of the stores on the street and wore it during the tour.
To end the day, I held a mini-camp in Ilocos for the kids. The energy was crazy just pulling up to the entrance. Jalen took time to answer a few questions and talk to the packed crowd at one of the barangay courts there. To top it off, Jalen joined the kids in some of the drills and even played one-on-one with a lucky few. And just to give a glimpse of athleticism, he gave the fans a 360 dunk in lifestyle shoes, with no warm-up. I’ll leave it up to you to think about how crazy that is.
What struck me the most, though, is not what Jalen does on the court. It’s not his swag. It’s not his highlight reel-worthy moves and dunks. It’s how much he loves the people that have been with him throughout his life. Everywhere he goes, he has his mom and little sister with him. In all his tours and games, two of his best friends, since he was young, were with him. In the middle of all the chaos that comes with stardom -- fans going crazy and bodyguards around him -- he always takes time to check up on his little sister Jurnee and his mom Bree.
“Hey, do you want some soda? The weather’s hot,” he would ask his little sister.
He makes sure to share meals with his mom and sister. Even when trying new experiences, riding a private plane, eating Filipino food, or riding a kalesa, he makes sure to stop and take pictures with his family. During the trip he tweeted this:
my ultimate goal in life is to put a smile on these 2 beautiful women’s faces. no better feeling then seeing them happy. if i can continue that i won 🙏🏽🖤 — Jalen Green🤍 (@JalenGreen)
This side of him that I saw showed his motivation in playing the game that we all love: he plays the game for his family.
And when I asked him how big of an impact the Filipino community has on his basketball journey, he said that the Filipinos have been showing support even before he made it to the league. He came here for an invitational tournament and went viral for dunking on Kai Sotto. He appreciates the support even during that time.
He acknowledges all the love from Filipinos on social media, and it’s a huge reason why he keeps playing the game. I think that alone is a reason for us Filipinos to give our all-out support to Filipino-American hooper Jalen Green.