Before I knew anything about college basketball recruiting, before I ever stepped an internet-foot onto Cat’s Pause or KSR, I knew about Greg Oden. Up close and personal (…kind of).
It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school in Indiana. Our brand new varsity basketball coach took our squad to team-camp at IU in Bloomington. Somehow, we got matched up against Lawrence North on Assembly Hall’s actual floor. The real deal. We witnessed this behemoth of a man warming up and dunking everything in sight. Trembling, we all let out a sigh of relief when he decided to sit out of our impending game to have a trainer tend to his ankle.
None of us knew the heavy foreshadowing that moment held. Nor did we know his name. But that gigantic one-man block party was Greg Oden.
Shortly after the game, we all learned he was the number one player in the country, etc. We weren’t surprised, but still shocked to be in his presence. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but none of us talked to him. However, some have been privileged enough to get the inside scoop on his story. Former teammate Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) penned this Grantland piece that profiles Greg Oden in a light most have never seen. This is a great piece and worth the read.
From exposing the true cause of Oden’s freshman year injury and the accompanying brotherly love/feud, to telling the heartbreaking tale of his best friend’s untimely death, and even to the big man’s bout with alcoholism, Titus paints Oden to be a fragile, shy, and truly human being. Most of us may see this young man as an injury-prone bust who now pales in comparison to the scoring machine (Kevin Durant) he was chosen above in the draft. In reality, there are many more complex layers to athletes like Greg, and this interview shows just that.
Check out a couple insightful quotes from the article:
“Because I don’t understand why they are so excited to meet me,” Greg responded. “I’m just a person. I guess I didn’t really mind it when I was at Ohio State and even right after I was drafted, but it just seems so fake now. Like, why are you bothering me at dinner for a picture when I’m nothing now?”
“For starters, Portland isn’t a great city to live in if you’re a young, African American male with a lot of money,” Greg explained with an embarrassed grin. “But that’s especially true if you don’t have anybody to guide you. Since I was hurt the entire season, I was on my own a bunch and didn’t have veteran teammates around to help me adapt to the NBA lifestyle.”
“I’m at peace with everything. I want more than anything to be able to play again. But if I can’t, I’ll still have a decent life. Getting cut (by Portland) kind of put everything into perspective. There’s more to life than basketball, and at some point it’s going to end anyway. I’m going to do what I can to get back on the court, but if it doesn’t work out, I’ll find something else to do and have a normal life.”
*Personal favorite quote with Titus’ oh-so-true retort:
“When a girl sends me 100 pictures, I have to send something back every now and then. I’m not an asshole.” (Hey, we’ve all been there, right?)
Despite his mistakes, it’s hard not to cheer for Greg. He’s humble and real, despite the millions of dollars and broken dreams. Titus tells us that Oden plans to rehab, work on his degree, and come back strong to the NBA when he is ready. Just as I have been doing since that day I came across him at Assembly Hall, I’ll be pulling hard for Greg Oden to succeed.