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USA star Green doing unicorn things as 'Idol' on and off the court
HERAKLION (Greece) - Jalen Green stands out on the court as one of the most dynamic players at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019. But he is just as compelling off the court with multiple nicknames and a huge social media following behind him.
Watching the United States guard drive to the basket and explode for a head-shaking dunk or increasingly more often insult an opponent with a nasty rejection it's hard to realize that Green is one of the youngest players in Heraklion. He also arrives in Greece after leading the United States to the title at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018 as the tournament MVP.
Green, who is averaging 11.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.0 steals in 22 minutes through four games at the U19 World Cup, is one of 17 players in the tournament born in 2002 or later - in an event for the 2000 age group.
"I think it's good to come out here and get that competition. You are playing against college guys and older guys and older pros. You come out and hold your own," said Green, who only turned 17 on February 9.
Green has plenty of admirers even on a USA team full of some of the best high school players in the United States.
"Oh, man, he's special. He really is special. That's my brother for life. I love him to death. I love to see him grow,” said Jalen Suggs, who has seen Green up close and personal over the past two summers, having won the FIBA U16 Americas Championship 2017 and FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018 with Green.
"He's becoming a more complete player. He's doing it on the offensive end like he's always done but he's growing on the defensive end as well," Suggs added.
But Green's faithful are far from just teammates. The California native has built up an impressive following on social media with 407,000 followers on Instagram and another 21,800 on Twitter.
"It's crazy. It's cool, I love all the support I get. I appreciate all my fans. The fact that they follow me for things I do for hoops is great," Green said.
Suggs even joked about Green's social media presence, quipping: "I'm trying to get like him."
Not that his mad mixtape material isn't enough, but a large reason for the ever-growing size of the Green support army is the fact that he is part Filipino with his mother and grandfather hailing from Philippines. And the Asian country is not only wild about basketball but Filipinos are almost religiously active on social media.
"Philippines are crazy. They show mad love and support," Green said. "It's crazy how much love they show out there. They love the game. And the fact that they have someone who is tops in the USA is a big thing to them."
The Filipino community even bestowed on Green their own nickname - "Idol".
"I don't know where it came from," Green said. "It's like a role model thing."
Green has embraced his Philippines heritage and played exhibition tournaments in the country and appeared in a dunk contest. His online hype took off in the Philippines even more when he threw down a vicious dunk over Philippines' 7-foot NBA hopeful Kai Sotto during a trip to Asia.
But "Idol" is not the main moniker Green goes by. His Twitter description reads "different" with a unicorn emoticon next to it.
"Coach (Dennis) Gates at Florida State said I’m like a unicorn. I took that and kind of made my own thing out of it. I’m different," Green said. "It doesn't matter what position I play, I'm different on the court, I'm different off the court. People notice me, I get buckets. I'm just different all around."
When asked to pose for a picture, Green is known to put his index finger onto his forehead, symbolizing the unicorn.
The online basketball highlight makers are known to comment on Green’s breathtaking plays by saying: "Green doing unicorn things."
"I just want to show that unicorn," Green said.
Jalen Green has already accomplished many things others haven't - including becoming the first U17 World Cup MVP to be a year younger than the rest of the competition. For the "Idol" though, it's just another day in the life of a unicorn.