Kalana Greene isn't just blowing smoke

Sun guard Kalana Greene samples an Arturo Fuente cigar while relaxing at the Clay Pipe, a cigar lounge at the Mohegan Sun. The former UConn great has developed a number of unique interests outside of basketball since her days in Storrs.
Buy Photo Dana Jensen/The Day Sun guard Kalana Greene samples an Arturo Fuente cigar while relaxing at the Clay Pipe, a cigar lounge at the Mohegan Sun. The former UConn great has developed a number of unique interests outside of basketball since her days in Storrs.

Mohegan - She was prepped out for the accompanying photos, natty with her trademark sweater and Technicolor socks.

And Kalana Greene was smokin.'

No, really.

Smokin.'

An Arturo Fuente.

That's a cigar.

A good one, too.

Who knew?

Who knew that your Kalana, another of the honorary daughters of Storrs, now the wisecracking forward for the Connecticut Sun, is a cigar girl?

Indeed. When she's not home watching the History Channel or scouring the Huffington Post, you might find Greene at the Clay Pipe, the hip little cigar lounge at Mohegan Sun, just a few months old. Or the Owl Shop in New Haven. Maybe the Cigar Inn in New York.

She would be there relaxing with friends, laughing the day away, solving the world's problems one puff at a time.

Yes. This is Kalana Greene. The kid you thought you knew. Turns out we never really knew her at all. Until now.

"I'm curious to know what people even think they know about her, other than the UConn part," her friend and Sun teammate Renee Montgomery said.

Then Montgomery chuckled the most endearing chuckle and said, "that's a strange girl right there."

Now you are about to meet her all over again.

?????

Meet Paul Thomas. He's the guy Billy Joel might have been singing about once: Quick with a joke or to light up your smoke. Paul is the man entrusted to serving customers at the Clay Pipe.

He learned Thursday that Greene was on her way for a photo shoot.

"I know her!" Thomas said, his face brightening. "She was in here after (the last Sun preseason) game. I loved talking to her. She really knows her stuff, too."

It wasn't long until Greene walked in, the star of the show.

"My man!" she said to Thomas.

And off they went to find the perfect tightly rolled bundle for the afternoon.

That's the first thing you notice about Greene: She talks to everybody. Anybody. She's versed in many subjects, which happens a lot when you spend time reading and in thought, rather than ensconced in, you know, video games.

Greene is a favorite among the Sun staff and media members covering the team. She knows everyone's name. She's a bit of an assassin, too.

"What I liked the most," said Maggie Hawk, the Sun's former equipment manager and daughter of former assistant coach Scott Hawk, "is that even during a water break, when practice is hard, she'll come over, make a joke and walk away."

Greene always got Carly Thibault, daughter of former Sun coach Mike Thibault, with her pregame attire: The team-issued warmup suit, top tucked in tighter than a facelift, bottoms hiked up, as if channeling her inner grandfather. Accompanying smirk, usually munching on a cookie.

Which invites the next thing you notice: Kalana's apparel collection.

"She dresses like an old man. A preppie old man," Montgomery said. "A collared shirt. Khaki. Blue khaki, light khaki, dark khaki, green khaki. Always has on some type of socks. They might be striped, polka dot, typically showing. (Wednesday) we were walking through the airport and she's getting her shoes shined. Who gets their shoes shined at an airport anymore?"

That Greene is comfortable anywhere and with anyone speaks to her conviction to be delivered from St. Stephen, S.C., her hometown, on a voyage of self-discovery. It is perhaps not coincidence, at least not for Greene, that the last census listed 1,776 residents in St. Stephen.

Note the number: 1,776. Kalana Greene needed her independence. Her independence from the small town with one stop light and familiar rhythms.

"I wasn't afraid about leaving my family. I was more nervous about being on my own and not having a crutch," Greene said. "There's a southern mentality. People grow up, their parents give them land, if they get in trouble their parents are there, their parents are always their crutch. My grandfather had land and he handed it out to all his kids.

"It's a beautiful thing to grow up in, don't get me wrong," she said. "But I didn't really see space for expansion or opportunity. It's always the same thing. Every generation had the same thing. I didn't want to be caught in that. Not necessarily being dependent, but I wanted independence. Complete independence. I wanted to see everything. I said, 'I'm going as far away as I can.'"

And it began, really, the night UConn coach Geno Auriemma forged on en route to Greene's home visit, after his GPS left him staring at some field. Geno finally found Kalana. And Greene decided to test women's basketball's Broadway. Now she's even a little like her old coach.

"She doesn't have a sense of humor. She's sarcastic," Montgomery said. "You know the movie 'The Great Gatsby?' She claims she went to go see it. Whenever we talk about it, she's like, 'oh yeah I love that part.' She's never seen this movie. I guarantee it."

Montgomery suddenly got Greene's attention.

Renee: "K-Bear, did you like the end of 'The Great Gatsby?'"

Greene: (Deadpan). "Yeah. It's like so similar to the book."

Montgomery, laughing with a hint of exasperation, said, "See? now she claims to have read the book."

?????

And to think it began with an Acid Kuba Kuba.

That was Kalana Greene's first cigar. Fear not, cigar novices. She wasn't into psychedelics. "Acid Kuba Kuba" is a brand name used by Drew Estates in Nicaragua. The Acid line of cigars is one of the few infused with flavor while the tobacco is fermented.

"Some of my friends smoked cigars and were graduating (from UConn) and they were smoking them outside the school of business one day," Greene said. "They asked me to try one. One of my friends said if you're going to try a cigar, try one of the sweeter ones and develop a taste for it your palate changes.

"It was an Acid Kuba Kuba. Now it's disgusting. Too sweet, flavor infused. I started with the mild ones, then the medium bodies, now I can smoke a full bodied on an empty stomach."

Greene leans toward a Hemingway Short Story, made by Fuente, or an Ashton VSG. She also likes "nubs," which are short, stout and well filled, kind of like the Kirby Puckett of cigars.

A cigar person would tell you that Ms. Greene has excellent taste.

But then, as Montgomery says, "Everyone has their own different personalities. But she brings a whole different aspect. Who smokes cigars at 26?"

Answer: Kalana Lanette Greene.

"It's a hobby," Greene said. "I started maybe in 2008-ish and it stuck with me. It's an expensive hobby, so I don't do it as much as I want to. It's a relaxing thing. I appreciate the whole science of it. Different tobaccos, different wrappers, different tastes, paring them with wines and whiskeys. One of my friends likes cigars, too. We're kind of like old souls. We like classic things."

Greene knows that cigar smoking doesn't necessarily fit the program of a professional athlete. Neither does sipping the different bourbons she likes with the cigars. But this just in: Athletes are people too, you know.

"I like to smoke and drink in the comforts of people I'm comfortable around," Greene said. "I'm not doing anything wrong. I know our audience is a certain audience. People have this perception of what I'm supposed to be doing because I'm a basketball player."

Then Greene paused and said, "Like I say all the time, it's not like I'm smoking crack. I don't hide it, I don't promote it. As an athlete, if they see you drink or smoke, they think you're not normal. Just be responsible for what you do."

For the record, Greene is not her team's pied piper of cigars.

"Maybe if we win the championship, I'll smoke one," Tina Charles said.

"Absolutely not. No chance. Zero percent chance," Montgomery said. "I might even say negative, but I'll stick with zero. I actually thought about it on the beach in Miami. People were walking around with them and I thought, 'K-Bear would love that.' But she calls those the dried out cheap cigars. She smokes the nice ones, so I'm told."

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Kalana Greene spent a good hour at the Clay Pipe on Thursday, enjoying her hobby and entertaining the folks inside. They know her differently than they used to. Now the rest of us do, too.

She's quite the story. Her yearns for independence delivered her here. Bully for us.

"A unique person," Charles said. "My best friend. She's everything you'd want in a friend and a person."

m.dimauro@theday.com

Connecticut's Kalana Greene (32) split the defense of New York's Leilani Mitchell, left, and Plenette Pierson during a WNBA exhibition game on May 11.
Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day Connecticut's Kalana Greene (32) split the defense of New York's Leilani Mitchell, left, and Plenette Pierson during a WNBA exhibition game on May 11.
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