(Photo Credit Victoria Graff)
For University of Kentucky basketball teams, there are definitely players who have been fan favorites over the years. Makayla Epps and Maci Morris come immediately to mind. Come to think of it, there’s nothing that draws out more vocal support from BBN than being a home-state hero growing up within the commonwealth’s borders. That distinguished mantle this year falls on none other than Harlan County’s Blair Green.
Green, the 6’0 junior guard, helped spark Kentucky to a 71 – 63 first-round NCAA Tournament victory over the Idaho State Bengals. The former Harlan County High School superstar had ten points on 4 – 8 shooting (2 – 4 three-pointers) and was part of a trio of double figure scorers—including Rhyne Howard and Chasity Patterson with 14 apiece—that Coach Kyra Elzy said was crucially needed in order for the Wildcats to survive and advance.
Kentucky fell behind early by ten points, but then ramped up the defensive effort and pulled away comfortably from the overmatched winners of the Big Sky Conference. The Bengals managed only 13 points in the second and third quarters combined.
It hasn’t been a cakewalk this year for Blair. As a matter of fact, when Coach Elzy pulled her from the lineup in the middle of the year, many fans became highly upset. Her scoring average and minutes played plummeted drastically. I even heard a few die-hard supporters from Eastern Kentucky claim they were fed up with the sudden change in strategy.
Through it all, Blair persevered. Immediately after the lineup change was announced, Coach Elzy made it a point to speak repeatedly with her star pupil throughout the rest of the season. They met again one-on-one in the two weeks since Kentucky was eliminated from the SEC Tournament.
What did Coach Elzy say to her? Blair Green fans want to know.
“She just keeps telling me how much she needs me,” Blair emphasized. “[To] come in there off the bench and just bring a spark and bring some energy. To look for my shots. I think I’ve been able to step up. She just keeps encouraging me.”
That persistent encouragement has paid off on the practice floor.
“We had an excellent week of practice,” Elzy confirmed. “I was very proud of all of our players. There were two players in particular that really stood out after the SEC Tournament when we went back to work, and one was Blair Green and the other one was Dre’ [Edwards]. They both practiced extremely well. They were playing with confidence. They both stepped up to the challenge that I gave them in the individual meetings…Blair and I have met several times, and I knew down the stretch we would need her. I wanted her to keep her confidence, find a way to get her involved, and for her to settle in defensively. She stepped up.”
Even with her apparent new lesser role, Blair stayed expectantly positive about coming off the bench.
“No matter who is starting, it doesn’t really matter with this team,” she explained diplomatically, without even being prompted. “We could all start. It’s been OK. We’re doing really great. I’m so proud of everyone out there. It’s pretty even across the board, and we encourage each other. Starting spots really aren’t a big deal with this team. We just come to play.”
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting to hear. Maybe some outrage? Or perhaps a little pouting? Sorry, that’s not part of Blair Green’s makeup. She’s a team player. It’s as simple as that.
Like many of you, I want to see her score fifty points. But as long as the team keeps winning, I guess I’m OK with her role off the bench.
Kentucky (18 – 8) advances to the second round and will face 5th-seeded Iowa on Tuesday.