He was a 13-year-old eighth grader growing up in a tough Dominican neighborhood in the Washington Heights section of Upper Manhattan when his mother, Josephine, who had raised him on her own, died unexpectedly from a heart attack.
“I remember we were at her burial in Fairlawn, N.J. and they were putting her down in the grave,” Ricardo Greer said quietly, his eyes beginning to glisten. “We all had roses and I threw mine in with her and made a promise.
“I said ‘I promise you I’ll do something with my life. I’ll make a difference. I’ll make you proud.’”
And thanks to the initial help of his 17-year-old sister Jessenia – who stepped in to raise him and his younger brother while also raising her own young child and working two jobs – Greer has done just that.
“My sister did an amazing job,” he said. “She was a super woman.”
Greer became a high school basketball standout first in Manhattan, then at a prep school in Connecticut. He went on to become a two-time All-Big East player and score 1,753 points at Pitt, play a dozen years on the Dominican Republic’s national team and play briefly there as a pro, too.
Most of his 14-year professional career was spent in Europe – England, Croatia ,Ukraine and especially France, where he was a perennial All Star and last year was inducted into the French Basketball Hall of Fame.
Now beginning his second season as a University of Dayton assistant coach, Greer continues to show he has not forgotten his mom, his Dominican roots or his promise.
He’s making a difference.
And because of him the Flyers now have a Dominican connection.
Jhery Matos – a versatile 6-foot-6 guard from the Villa Juana neighborhood of Santo Domingo – has joined this year’s team as a junior college transfer from Monroe College in the Bronx.
And UD is also in the running for 6-foot-8 Bayon Matos-Garcia, a 2020 prospect who grew up in the Dominican Republic and now is a junior at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Flyers offered him a scholarship in June.
Jhery Matos said UD assistant Anthony Solomon actually was the first Flyer coach to contact him:
“The first thing he asked me was, ‘Do you know anything about Dayton basketball?’ And I was like, ‘Coach, to be honest with you, I never heard of it.’
“After that I started talking to Ricardo and I felt comfortable with him. He knew where I was from and what I was about.
“They sent me pictures of UD and I was impressed, but they said ‘To really understand, you have to come see it and feel it.’“
He was invited to watch a game at UD Arena against Fordham.
“When I walked in, everyone in the student section started yelling my name – ‘Jhery!…Jhery!’” he said. “It was crazy.”
After leaving the Dominican Republic by himself as a teenager, Matos attended four U.S. schools in four years. He first played at Calusa Prep in Miami and then West Oaks Academy in Orlando. After high school came a stint at Eastern Florida State in Melbourne and finally Monroe in NYC.
“I was moving every year and it was really hard,” Matos said.
Greer understood what Matos was going through and the two soon forged a bond.
“He came to the U.S. by himself and had bounced around a lot,” Greer said. “A lot of people used him for his talent and not for what was best for Jhery.
“He’s a kid who values relationships. I knew a lot of the same people he did from the Dominican. I played for same the team he (later) did – Mauricio Baez — and he was on the national team, too. I was able to connect a lot of the dots for him.
”Jhery was mature enough when we recruited him to understand what was real and what was fake. He needed to be at a place where they really cared about the kid, not just his basketball, and I believe he’s finding that here.
“I think he now feels a sense of family, a sense of security.”
Known for baseball
In the sports world, Dominicans are most known for baseball: Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, the list of Dominican greats goes on and on.
This season the Opening Day rosters in Major League Baseball included 84 players from the Dominican Republic, the most from one nation outside the U.S.
“Basketball, though, is seeing more and more talent with Dominican ties,” Greer said. “One of the best players in the league, Karl-Anthony Towns, is half Dominican. And you can’t get any better than Al Horford (the five-time All Star with the Boston Celtics).”
Matos added Felipe Lopez, Charlie Villanueva and Francisco Garcia to the list. And he said back in the Dominican Republic, Greer “is really well known. Everyone loves him.”
Although born and raised in New York City, Greer embraced his Dominican heritage and that’s why he chose Pitt over Tennessee in 1996.
That Panthers had their own Dominican connection then – guys like Jaime Peterson, Orlando and OIiver Antigua – and their presence made him feel comfortable there.
“Actually Sean Miller recruited me there and his brother Archie committed with me,” Greer said. “Then Sean went to North Carolina State (as an assistant) and Archie followed him.”
That’s just one of many relationships over the years that Greer has had with people tied to UD.
Allen Griffin, a former Brooklyn school boy star, who would as stand out at Syracuse and later serve as an assistant on Archie Miller’s UD staff, had been an AAU teammate of Greer’s on the NYC Gauchos.
While playing in France, Greer competed year after year against former Flyer Tony Stanley and later against UD’s Kevin Dillard, as well.
“Tony would tell me about Dayton, but I had no idea how extreme it was until I got here,” he said.
Last year Greer joined Anthony Grant’s UD staff after an introduction from Donnie Jones.
Grant and Jones coached together at Marshall and Florida and became longtime friends. Most recently Jones was the head coach at Central Florida and before the 2016-17 season he hired Greer, who had just retired as a player.
After that season Jones and his staff were fired. He promptly sold Grant on Greer and this season Jones has joined the Flyers staff, as well.
“The way this has turned out is a dream come true,” Greer said. “I came into the office again yesterday morning with the biggest smile on my face.”
Back in the Dominican Republic, Matos – who was raised by his mom – made the age-level national teams and travelled the world, playing in France, Italy, Greece, Puerto Rico and the United States.
“Everybody told me, ‘You ought to go to the United States so you can play college basketball there,’” he recalled. “They said, ‘There’s a lot of opportunity there. You can follow your dreams.’”
But it wasn’t easy at the start.
He knew just one person in America, a friend from back home, he didn’t speak English and he was scared. Bouncing from one school to the next, he learned English and about life.
He said he feels it’s all coming together here in Dayton. And while he’s found open arms, he hopes to open some ears, too.
He’s fantasized about hearing some Spanish music over the PA system at UD Arena.
“Yeah, I’d love hearing Bad Bunny,” he said with grinning reference to the popular Latin trap and reggaetron singer.
Regardless, he regularly hears from Greer.
“I feel I can be open with him and talk about anything,” Matos said. “He’s made me feel comfortable here.”
Ricardo Greer has kept that graveside promise.
He’s making a difference.