They would look at 9-year-old Jerry Green and scoff. These were usually his brother's pals, guys 10 years older. It would start with a comment about this kid who was always dribbling a basketball. So his brother would make it simple: OK, beat him.
It seemed a sure thing.
"Sometimes a guy would tell me, 'He has no game, " Gerald Green Jr. said. "I would tell him, 'Go ahead, play him.' Sometimes they were 25 years old. They'd play and after a while, they would stop talking and start getting upset. Jerry would beat them."
Oh, it didn't happen every time. Just usually. But win or lose, no one ever asked for a rematch.
"I could tell when they were getting mad because they would start getting physical," Jerry Green said. "I understood. I wouldn't want to lose to a little kid either. But that was my house. Nobody was going to beat me at my home."
Green has forwarded his address. The result? Well, Pat Douglass has been caught giggling only once since he became the UC Irvine basketball coach. It was the thought of Green in an Anteater uniform that tickled him.
It was last April 10. Assistant coach Len Stevens informed Douglass that Green had signed and the SATs were fine.
Douglass, for a moment, became giddy at the idea of having Green the next four years. Sure, Irvine signed four high school seniors last year. But there is little doubt who's at the head of the class.
Gabe Cagwin can shoot from well beyond the three-point line. Zamiro Bennem is quick to the basket. Matt Gottschalk has a nice touch, especially for a 6-foot-10 center.
"We like all the freshmen we brought in," Douglass said.
But . . .
"Jerry has this knack for scoring. He sees the court so well with the ball. He does things that are natural. He does things you can't coach."
There's a lot in this 6-foot-3 package.
Green averaged 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists at Pomona High School last season. Opinion of him escalated during the season so much--he had 42 points against Magnolia in one playoff game and 38 against Ocean View the next--that Utah and USC began calling.
"I had a great defensive team last season," Ocean View Coach Jim Harris said. "We broke all the school's defensive records. We were capable of shutting down anybody, but we could not stop him. It came down to 'OK, this guy is going to get his, let's make sure he doesn't make everyone else better.' The guy is legitimate"
Which brings Douglass to the brink, before he tempers his statements. He raves about Green, then takes a step back, knowing that he is, after all, a freshman.
"He has to adjust to this level," Douglass said. "The real test for me will be to allow him to go on the court at Arizona and let him make freshmen mistakes."
Irvine plays Arizona Dec. 14.
"That's going to be exciting," Green said. "It's crazy out there. It's going to be fun."
Spoken like a 9-year-old who used to whup guys twice his age. But it has always been like this.
There were times that Linda Green would have to fetch her son late at night. She knew where to find him, out in the driveway with a basketball in his hands.
"It would be midnight and I would be yelling at him, 'Get in here, there's no one else out there,' " Linda Green said. "He was always the first one out playing and the last one in. Guys always knew they could swing by Meadow Lane and find Jerry bouncing the ball."
Green can't remember when he didn't have a basketball in his hands. His mother talks proudly of the photograph she has with Jerry, in diapers, standing on his Big Wheel, trying to stuff a ball in a toy basket.
He was 2.
Green developed rapidly, dominating youth leagues. The only thing that slowed him was a finger injury in the fifth grade. Green, told by his father not to lift weights in the garage, did so anyway. A weight disc dropped on his left hand, nearly severing his middle finger.
"The doctor kept saying they weren't sure they could save the finger or that he wouldn't have any feeling in it," Linda Green said. "Jerry didn't want to hear that. After the finger got well, he went wild."
There were broken windows to prove it, casualties of Green's constant and persistent dribbling around the house.
"He tore three baskets down at the house, too," Linda Green said.
Said Gerald Green Sr.: "He was dribbling with both hands when he was 5. I thought that was kind of odd. It really hit me when he scored 40 points in a game as a fifth grader. He thought he was Michael Jordan."
A bit of a reach, but Green was soon schooling older kids, some more than twice his age--at his brother's request. High school just sent his reputation beyond Pomona.
He played in a tournament sponsored by the Lakers' Eddie Jones last year. Jones has sent shoes to Green. Nick Van Exel has been to the house.
Heady stuff, but Green isn't about to let a little attention affect him.