The two sixth-graders, thrust together as teammates at a Philadelphia-area basketball camp run by one of the sneaker giants, eyed each other warily.
They were both from North Philly, a tough part of town, but had never crossed paths. Nor would there be any attempt at an accord on this day. Not at first, anyway. Each was out to get his own. Each was intent not only on proving something to the rest of the campers but to each other.
“When we first met each other we didn’t really like each other,” one of them, Juan’ya Green, said this week, well over a decade after the fact, “because we were going back and forth, seeing who the best player was, scoring the ball.”
The other player in the equation, Ameen Tanksley, could only chuckle at the memory.
“We weren’t really willing to share the ball with each other at first,” he said. “Then we started sharing the ball, and we started clicking.”
They quickly became friends, and have been on the same page ever since. Teammates throughout their college careers – first at Niagara and now at Hofstra, having switched schools when coach Joe Mihalich, another Philly guy, did so three years ago – the two seniors are the top two scorers in Mihalich’s fast-paced attack.
Green, a 6-2 guard, averages 17.1 points (as well as 6.6 assists), while Tanksley, a 6-5 guard/forward, checks in at 16.4 points a night (as well as 5.5 rebounds). And the Pride, which averages 82 points as a team, carries a 10-4 record into Thursday’s game at the College of Charleston, with another at Elon to follow Saturday on ASN.
“It’s fun to play,” Tanksley said. “(Mihalich) likes to really score in the high numbers. … He lets you play freely.”
“He basically lets you play your game,” he said of Mihalich. “Whatever you’re good at, he lets you do– whatever you’re capable of doing, as long as it’s the right play and as long as you’re playing hard and playing defense and giving 100 percent effort.”
And playing together, something Green and Tanksley long ago learned to do.
Asked what he appreciates most about his friend’s game, Tanksley said, “How he makes everyone better – how he’s unselfish. He can score a lot more, but he creates for others, sacrifices his shots to get other people shots.”
Tanksley’s grit, meanwhile, is the thing that stands out to Green.
“The way he plays is all about toughness,” he said. “The way he goes to the rim, he’s very physical and he’s smart. … He’s never going to let a bad shot get him out of the game.”
After that long-ago meeting at camp, Green would visit Tanksley in his neighborhood, some 15 minutes away, and Tanksley would do the same. They would hang out, get to know each other’s friends, play some ball.
“We just love to laugh,” Green said. “We joke around all day and play each other.”
As a result, he added, “We just have a common bond that can never be broken.”
They were AAU teammates growing up, and hoped to attend the same high school. That didn’t work out, however, and Green wound up winning a state championship and becoming the all-time leading scorer at Archbishop Carroll, while Tanksley won a pair of state titles at Imhotep Charter.
“We were supposed to go to high school together,” Green said, “but since we didn’t we talked to each other after that (senior) year: ‘We’re going to make sure we go to college together.’ ”
So it was on to Niagara. Green was the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year as a freshman, and an all-conference first-teamer his second season. Tanksley was also productive, but when Mihalich took the Hofstra job in 2013, they were left with a dilemma.
“We weren’t sure we wanted to stay at Niagara, or we wanted to go,” Tanksley said. “We didn’t really want to sit out (for one year, per NCAA transfer rules).”
Ultimately they opted to head to Hofstra — believing, Tanksley said, that doing so would afford their families a better opportunity to see them perform, and that playing so close to New York City would give them greater exposure.
And there they have thrived, while walking in lockstep. It’s something that might have been hard to picture, all those years ago.