By Dave Krider
Greg Monroe will be a strong candidate for National Player of the Year, but he is so much more than a basketball player to teammates, coaches and students at Helen Cox High School in Harvey, La.
"There are a lot of prima donnas, but he is amazing," Coach Tyrone Mouzon told MaxPreps. "You'd never know how popular he is. He never boasts. It's all about the team and his classmates. He's a wonderful human being. He's just so level. He's like calm water."
Mouzon illustrated his point with a story about one of Monroe's summer odysseys. He played for his AAU team at the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C., then rode nine hours with some friends so he could return home and catch a bus to a Baptist youth leadership conference in Knoxville, Tenn. Returning from the conference he got up early the next morning to help out with a team car wash.
Monroe, who carries a sparkling 3.7 GPA, also has caught the eye of New York talent scout Tom Konchalski, who cites "character" as his greatest asset. "He is intelligent, a devout Christian and a terrific teammate. He reminds me of David Robinson. He is kind of regal. Both are left-handed, have broad shoulders and long arms."
Ironically, because Monroe is so versatile and team-oriented, he sometimes is criticized by media members for "not playing hard enough."
"Sometimes he's too unselfish," Mouzon says in defense of his young star, who just turned 17 in June.
Konchalski concedes that the Louisiana standout has got to develop more of a back-to-the-basket game. "He has to play like he's 6-foot-10. He runs very well and handles the ball in the open court. He has very good skills for a big guy. He's most comfortable facing the basket, but he's got to be a more consistent factor inside."
"He has been doing a much better job with that (playing down low)," Mouzon noted. "He has terrific low-post moves and if he misses he's really quick off his feet (to rebound). He's a lot bigger now (up to 235 pounds). He has wide shoulders and as he gets older he is going to be around the basket."
Surprisingly, Monroe weighed just six pounds at birth. His mother, Norma, who has raised him as a single parent since he was three years old, doesn't recall how long he was. "He was a little fatty at one time," she laughed. "I never thought that he was going to be 6-10."
Norma, who stands 5-10 and has a 6-6 brother, might have guessed that her son would be quite tall, however, because his father, Greg Sr., is 6-6.
Monroe's career was launched at age five when his mother bought him a miniature ball and basket. His father, a former player who now lives in Georgia, taught him fundamentals of the game. "He sees me during the AAU season and comes up for some high school games," Monroe pointed out. "It wasn't hard to learn. I liked going outside and shooting, so I already had some skills."
During his elementary school days, he also dabbled in football, soccer, baseball and track. His height advantage made him particularly adept at tight end.
He began playing organized basketball for the local recreation department at age nine. He had a major growth spurt between ages 12 and 13 and at 13 he began playing for the New Orleans Panthers Select AAU team. His team made the final eight in the national tourney when he was 14 and repeated the feat when he was 15. During the latter summer, he scored over 40 points in a single game.
As an eighth grader Monroe played for Helen Cox Junior High. He was considering attending one of four nearby New Orleans high schools (Brother Martin, Holy Cross, St. Augustine or John Ehret) when he found out that Helen Cox was going to become a four-year high school during his freshman year.
The talented youngster, who now stood 6-8, didn't hesitate, electing to stay home and attend the small school which now houses 900 students in grades 9-12. Mouzon vividly recalls the first day of weight lifting when the slender Monroe "barely could bench press 75 pounds. He was growing so fast that he used to fall a lot (in practice and games)." Nevertheless, he averaged around 14 points as a freshman and the school still was not a member of the state association.
Monroe's sophomore year was marred by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. "It was kind of a special year," Monroe said. His mother had considered sending him to Reserve Christian (Reserve) - about 30 minutes from their home - until she found out that Helen Cox would re-open. Returning home after a month's absence, he wound up averaging 18.5 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.3 assists while sparking the Cougars to the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
As a junior, Monroe raised his averages to 19.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.8 assists. He had high games of 32 points, 22 rebounds and 10 blocks. His great versatility was spotlighted by back-to-back triple doubles on a Friday-Saturday against O.P. Walker and Ellender.
When the Cougars played in a tournament at Fort Myers, Fla., the articulate Monroe was chosen to write the profile of his team and school which was used in the game program. "I told him he needed to write that," Mouzon pointed out. "I said, `I don't like you to be stereotyped (as just an athlete).' ''
His junior year was climaxed by being named Louisiana's Mr. Basketball and Gatorade State Player of the Year. "It was surprising and exciting," Norma Monroe admitted. "I was shocked by all the awards. I kept getting calls: `Well, Mrs. Monroe, he won another one.' He just tries so hard to be a normal 17-year-old boy. He realizes what position he is in, but is the type who doesn't want to flaunt it. That's the part I'm very proud of."
Monroe told MaxPreps that he looks up to such NBA stars as Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. He says his biggest thrill so far is "just getting out, traveling around the country and meeting professional players. I got to shake Michael Jordan's hand at the Nike Hoop Jamboree in St. Louis."
He hopes to some day compete with the big names of the NBA and has chosen Georgetown University - where he will major in psychology - as the best route. He explained, "I felt comfortable with coach Thompson (John) and the coaching staff. They'll help me get better as a player and person. I will be able to flourish in their style of offense."
When he does become a Hoya next year, Greg Monroe The Person will be most missed. Coach Mouzon says emphatically that he never will forget the loyalty of a young boy who could have attended a much bigger school and received many more personal accolades, but instead chose to stay "home."