The story of perfection begins on the basketball floor at Mary Persons High School, a plain gymnasium in the small town of Forsyth, Ga. Brecklyn Greene, the younger sister, would stand just off the free-throw line, pulling her brother’s shirt tail and pushing him in the back. Jeffrey and Lori Greene would gather a few feet away, two parents feigning an argument while music blared from speakers in the background.
For the Greene family, this was a mental test, of focus and preparation, and in the middle of the chaos stood oldest brother Brannen, clutching a basketball in his hands and focusing on the rim in front of him.
“We used to really make it difficult for him,” Jeffrey Greene says.
On some days, Jeffrey Greene would call out certain situations. (Down one, three seconds left.) On other days, Brannen Greene would refuse to leave the gym until he made 50 free throws in a row — a drill that came after another long shooting workout. Jeffrey Greene, a former college basketball player at Pittsburg State, had read about sports psychology ideas and the importance of mental preparation, and re-called an especially memorable quote from Earl Woods, the famous father who had guided and nurtured the career of his son, Tiger.
“Always be in character,” Jeffrey says.
On Wednesday night in Waco, Texas, those family training sessions at Mary Persons High School — and the mental lessons that accompanied them — came into play in the final seconds of Kansas’ 56-55 victory over Baylor. Brannen Greene stood at the free-throw line in the final seconds. The Jayhawks led by one. The crowd inside the Ferrell Center screamed and waved their arms.
“I just try to approach it like any other free throw, just take my time,” Greene says. “Take deep breaths; just live in the moment.”
Greene swished both free throws, which helped Kansas escape Baylor with a hard-fought Big 12 victory — and also extended one of the Jayhawks’ most impressive statistical streaks. Greene is a perfect 17 of 17 from the free-throw line this season, and he’s made 21 straight free throws dating back to last season.
“It’s ice-water every time,” Kansas forward Cliff Alexander says. “He’s going to knock it down.”
For Greene, a 6-foot-7 sophomore wing, the free-throw perfection has been the high point in a season that could be described as inconsistent. Among the highs: Greene knocked down five three-pointers at Georgetown, carrying the Jayhawks to a key nonconference road victory, and he finished with 12 points against Baylor in a career-high 29 minutes.
For the season, Greene is shooting 44.4 percent from three. But he has also been bothered by a persistent neck issue that was borne from a concussion suffered during the exhibition season. The neck discomfort comes and goes, Greene says, and this is partially why he’s played fewer than eight minutes in six games.
“When he can’t help the team win,” Jeffrey Greene says, “he’s hard on himself.”
Growing up in Georgia, Greene was the type of gym rat who would spend a rainy Christmas afternoon shooting in the driveway, or beg his father, a teacher, to open the gym at Mary Persons High for a workout. After a while, Jeffrey Greene figured it was more practical and efficient to install a half-court basketball setup outside the family’s home.
“His shot is not by happenstance,” Jeffrey Greene says. “There are some mental and some physical secrets that he does in preparation that are now just second nature.”
For years, Jeffrey Greene would emphasize certain aspects of his son’s shooting stroke. They would talk about trajectory and balance, and proper head placement. There were fewer basketball discussions last season, when Greene averaged 6.6 minutes per game as a Kansas freshman. But the Greene family relocated to Olathe last June — in part to be closer to family in Neosho and Joplin; in part to cut down on the commute to Allen Fieldhouse.
The Greene family, Jeffrey says, spent so much money traveling to Kansas games that it was “almost cost prohibitive to not move.”
The family’s new home has given Greene a closer support system — on Thursday night, he joined his family in Olathe for his favorite meal, seafood pasta — and the next step is to find consistency in Kansas’ rotation.
On certain days at practice, Greene will joke with Kansas coach Bill Self that he can make it through the entire season without missing a free throw. And while Self might point out that this is because Greene rarely gets to the free-throw line, the Jayhawks’ head coach has grown to appreciate Greene’s inner confidence.
“Basically, he has no conscience,” Self says, “which is a good thing with a shooter.”
At his core, Greene is simply a shooter, drilled and technical, armed with a consistent stroke, ready to spot up outside the three-point line on each possession. Which might help explain the following story. When Greene was growing up, he liked to go to the gym with his dad and see how many consecutive free throws he could make. Jeffrey remembers his son breaking the 70-mark on multiple occasions, but never making it past 78. Brannen’s memory is slightly different.
“I made like a 100 and something (in a row) when I was in high school,” Greene says.
The truth, perhaps, lies somewhere in the middle. But one thing is certain: Brannen Greene has not missed a free throw this season, and he doesn’t plan on missing one, either.
“It’s a realistic goal,” Greene said. “I think that would be amazing. That’d be really cool. I don’t know who’s done that before.”
Kansas’ record for consecutive free throws made* (multiple games)
*Since Kansas began keeping stats on consecutive free throws