A belated homage to Hugh Greenwood: the New Mexico star leaves an indelible imprint upon CBB

Ed. note: The quotes used in this article come from an interview I conducted with Hugh this past January for an article I’d planned to pen — er, tap — for SLAM Magazine online. Procrastination quickly took hold, and suddenly it was two weeks on from the initial interview.

Then, came the interview, which Greenwood gave after a home game against UNLV, and which I’ve transcribed below. There was something imparted in those words that gave me pause.

I realized something, which I would find once again thanks to Tyler Harvey (another player I profiled for SLAM — however inadequately) when he penned his open letter for The Cauldron in March.

Sportswriting is tricky, in that a person attempts to tell another person’s story. But who can impart a more enduring message, or more tell his story more forcefully, than the actual person — or, in this case, player — in question? Greenwood’s passionate revelation was a breath of fresh air into a musty room. Anything I wrote would pale in comparison.

So, without further ado, here’s a little letter to Greenwood. My story will pale in comparison to others that have been written about him, but I wanted to relate something about the way that interview impacted me. Wherever this guy goes, he’ll succeed. Too hard a worker, and too good a dude.

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Greenwood, Neal on Senior Day. (Courtesy of New Mexico Athletics)

Hugh Greenwood cites Matthew Dellavedova as the ideal for the current generation of Australian ballers yearning to make it professionally in the game. Here was a talented collegiate guard whom few believed had a shot at sticking in the NBA.

But you won’t find a harder worker, or a better teammate, or a more consummate knowledge of the game than Delly. And this past June, he became the talk of the nation thanks to his performances for the Cavs in the NBA playoffs. By the time the Finals rolled ‘round, ESPN was running Delly-related breaking news stories on its flagship SportsCenter: Delly won’t drink coffee before Game 4.

Like his compatriot and fellow Australian Institute of Sport alum, Greenwood seized America’s attention this year, if for a very different reason.

Enter Twitter. Here is an excellent disseminator of information with a disgusting underbelly. The latest manifestation came in January. After scoring 22 points in a New Mexico win over UNLV, Greenwood took a stand during a post-game interview.

Actually there was a man on Twitter, I’m not gonna shout him out — he doesn’t deserve to — talking about my mom battling second-degree breast cancer. He’s making cancer jokes all afternoon, talking about bringing my mom to the game in a hearse. There’s a line, and it gets crossed. I got my first dunk since freshman year, and I credit the win to him, because I was motivated tonight.

It should come as no surprise that Greenwood responded in such a resounding manner. Dedication, commitment, and loyalty — along with heavy helpings of skill — have long been his calling cards. He’d come to New Mexico in 2011 as something of a prodigy, the youngest player ever to have entered the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), at age 15. He was two years younger than the rest of the kids.

Greenwood used it as an opportunity to learn. He overlapped with Dellavedova for two years, and followed him everywhere. Here were two embodiments of what the AIS brain trust hopes to instill in its charges. Coachability, an insatiable desire to maximize talent. “We pride ourselves upon playing the hardest, and leading one another,” Greenwood said. “We don’t get outworked, and that’s how you get better.”

The summer before his freshman season at UNM, Greenwood was playing in a tournament in China when he learned that his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. He almost didn’t leave for Albuquerque.

This has to do with the closeness of the Greenwood clan, and the fight that flows through its members. Greenwood grew up an hour outside Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. His cousins were up the street, grandparents around the corner. Sport was in his genes. His grandfather played Australian League Football, and won three premiership titles. His father featured for the national team in water polo. His mom entered the Australian Institute of Sport in its first year on a basketball scholarship. After Greenwood made it, they became the first generational duo to feature in Canberra.

A Twitter troll would not shake this kid. He’s tough.

At the 2011 FIBA U-19 World Championships, Greenwood scored 26 points against a U.S. team stacked with the likes of Meyers Leonard, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Jeremy Lamb. This, on a bum ankle. “I’d sprained it pretty badly a few games before, and at the World Championships, there’s really no time to rest,” said Greenwood. “So I sat out one game, and then played on it.”

Greenwood remembers that game well. Backwards and forwards, momentum swinging freely, a last-second three missed by him. Kind of a buzzkill. At the same time, a lot of fun.

Greenwood’s freshman season, a huge portion of his family traveled to Albuquerque for Christmas. His parents came to every Mountain West conference tournament (Greenwood and UNM won it three times. His mom has to undergo tests every few months, but whenever they could, they traveled to the Southwest to be near their son and daughter (Greenwood’s sister, Josie, is a junior on the UNM women’s basketball team.)

“It’s opened my eyes, that there’s things bigger than basketball,” Greenwood says. “Family is a priority, so being there for them, my sister, my parents is huge.”

This season, Greenwood inaugurated the Pink Pack initiative, to raise awareness for his mother. It is coordinated through the Children’s Miracle Network, a charity that has raised $2.2 billion for some 170 hospitals across North America since its founding in 1983. Every dollar generated for Pink Pack goes directly to the UNM Cancer Center.

The Pink Pack initiative quickly built up steam. In May, New Mexico’s governor, Susana Martinez, donated her second $10,000 sum, bringing the total to a then-$65,000.

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Greenwood, on Senior Day. (Courtesy of UNM Athletics)

This past season was tough, weathering an unusual number of losses after a three-year run in which Greenwood helped foster an 84–20 record and three NCAA tournament appearances. But this program’s surge was predicated upon resilient players. After Cullen Neal went down to injury early in ‘14–15, Greenwood, who’d spent the summer playing the 2 and 3 for his country, unselfishly assumed point guard responsibilites.

That’s the staple of the best Aussies. Leadership. Loyalty. Dedication. Greenwood can’t remember ever not taking on the onus.

“As Aussies, we don’t know any better,” Greenwood says with a chuckle.

It’s the reason he could stand up to a troll. It’s a big reason why I was a huge UNM fan last season. Big cheers and best wishes to Greenwood as he begins the next part of his life.

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops

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