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Bishop Guertin’s Connor Green has key role in NCAA D-III men’s basketball final

It’s the dream of many talented young basketball players. To one day stand on the court at the NCAA Final Four in front of 80,000 spectators, including his mom, dad, sister and brother.

Former Bishop Guertin standout Connor Green is one win short of that dream, but either way, he’ll be in the Georgia Dome on April 8 when the national championship is decided.

One day earlier Green will play for a Division III national championship in Atlanta’s Phillips Arena with his Amherst College teammates against the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor of Belton, Texas.

As part of the NCAA’s 75th Anniversary of March Madness, all three men’s title games will be played in the same city on the same weekend. The winners of Sunday’s Division II and Division III title games will be introduced to the crowd Monday night.

This is the third time in seven years Amherst has reached the championship game. They won their only national title in 2007, losing in the finals a year later.

But this is all new for Green, who two years ago was raising a NHIAA Division I championship plaque for photographers and friends at the University of New Hampshire.

“It’s been an incredible experience,’’ said Green, a freshman who spent a postgraduate year at Phillips Exeter. “Just getting out of our conference was tough.

“I don’t think many people expected this. Coming into the season we had to replace three outstanding seniors who graduated last spring.’’

Green has played a big role in that rebuilding process, coming off the bench to average 9.1 points a game.

He had eight huge points in a 52-44 semifinal victory over North Central College of Naperville, Ill.

“Connor is a very talented, instant offense guy,’’ said David Hixon, who is in his 36th year as the Amherst coach, with close to 700 career victories. “He has a very quick catch and release.

“Early on, he would get exposed defensively, but he’s worked hard to become a capable defensive player and he’ll only get better.’’

And Green can rebound, something he had to do as a 6-foot-4 high school player. He’s averaging over three rebounds a game in just over 17 minutes of playing time.

“He’s a big, strong guard who seems to have a nose for it,’’ Hixon said. “I think he’d rather get out, face the basket and fire, but he could become very effective down low for us.’’

Green has become fast friends with another freshman, Ben Pollack, a 6-7 forward from Farmington, Conn., who came off the bench to score 14 points in 15 minutes in a quarterfinal victory over Cabrini College of Radnor, Pa.

“He was 6 for 6 from the floor and 2 for 2 from the line,’’ Green said about Pollack, who is averaging 4.3 points for the season. “It seems like when we’ve needed people to step up this season, it always happens.’’

Green has been one of those players. His eight semifinal points were crucial in a defensive-minded semifinal.

“It was a very physical game, and it was clear we weren’t going to win with 3-pointers,’’ said Green, whose 52 3-pointers was second best on the team.

“They shut everything else down and we needed Connor to score for us,’’ Hixon said, “and he did.’’

Green said playing in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, probably the top Division III league in the country, prepared his team for the postseason. Two other NESCAC schools, Williams and Middlebury, advanced to the Elite Eight.

It’s been a long winter for the Lord Jeffs, who opened the preseason Nov. 1, later than most schools, but will still be playing in April.

“When it started, I never imagined we’d still be playing in April,’’ Green said. “But it’s been fun.’’

And the real fun, including a dinner with the players on the Division I Final Four teams and other functions, is just a few days away.

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