By Jonah Bronstein
When Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley first teamed up at a basketball camp six summers ago, they were too competitive to make a connection.
“We didn’t really like each other at first,” Green said. “A lot of people in the camp were talking about me being the No. 1 player and he didn’t like that. We were going back and forth taking as many shots as we can.”
Before long, however, they became best friends, and now, as freshmen teammates at Niagara University, Green and Tanksley get along so well that they can’t even guard each other in practice without trying to make each other laugh.
“We’ve got the same personality,” Tanksley said. “We’re both Aquarius, a day apart with our birthdays.”
“They’re like brothers,” Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said.
North Philadelphia natives and dorm roommates, Green and Tanksley have emerged as important pieces in the Purple Eagles’ rebuilding projects.
Green, a 6-foot-3 combo guard, is averaging 19.5 points, 4 rebounds and 2.9 assists through his first eight games. He scored 35 points Friday night against Fairifeld, a record for a Niagara freshman and the highest output from a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player so far this season. He ranks 36th in the country in scoring and is third among freshmen.
“He’s a high-major player playing at a mid-major,” Tanksley said. “Even if he played high-major, I think he’d be doing the same as he’s doing at this level.”
Green said he received recruiting interest from some high-major programs, but chose Niagara in part because the Purple Eagles were also recruiting his Team Philly AAU teammate, Tanksley.
“Juan’ya was the bigger name, the higher-profile player,” Mihalich said. “But when you go watch Juan’ya play, you say, who is this other? Who’s the lefty? He’s pretty good. And the more you saw the two of them play together, the more you want them both.”
Green first recruited Tanksley to play with him at Philadelphia’s Archbishop Carroll, but Tanksley backed out at the last minute and wound up attending Imhotep Charter. On the AAU circuit the summer before their senior years, Green decided he wanted to play with Tanksley in college.
“He’s physical, he’s not scared to guard nobody, he’ll take a challenge and he’s rough,” Green said. “We had a couple schools that wanted both of us, but after we took a visit here, we talked a couple days later and decided this was the best feet.”
Tanksley, a 6-foot-6 swingman playing de facto power forward in the Purple Eagles’ four-guard lineup, also had a breakout game against Fairfield, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Now, Tanksley is telling Mihalich he feels like he can get a double-double every game, like another North Philly product who played on Monteagle Ridge.
“I don’t know Bilal Benn but I’ve seen clips and I know that’s how coach wants me to play,” Tanksley said.
And though there are vast differences in playing styles, Mihalich is reminded of two more Purple Eagles greats when he sees Green and Tanksley play together.
“I don’t know if they are going to turn out like (Juan) Mendez and (Alvin) Cruz, but it’s a similar situation,” Mihalich said. “Those guys were best of friends before they got here, just like Juan’ya and Ameen.”
But like most freshmen, Green and Tanksley are still adjusting to the unique challenge of sharing a dorm room.
“Sometimes it gets frustrating,” Green said. “But all in all, we’re best friends and we love each other.”