Greg Oden has made it. He’s won where it matters most — maybe not so much in the game of basketball, but in the greatest and most important game of all, life. The former Ohio State star and eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft deserves all the praise, admiration and respect in the world, and that’s probably an understatement.
Oden was going to be the next big thing to come into the basketball world. He had all the makings of an excellent pro and dominant low post player. He was unstoppable, offensively and defensively, and was an absolute game changer. He drew comparisons to the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon, and was widely seen as the NBA’s next big star.
In 2006, after being ranked as the consensus No. 1 overall high school player in the nation, Oden elected to attend The Ohio State University. His impact was immediately felt and his play was nothing short of exceptional. Oden dominated the Big 10 Conference and every opponent he saw en route to leading the Buckeyes to a National Championship game appearance. The 7-footer averaged nearly 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, as well as three plus blocks in his only season in Columbus.
Expectations didn’t change or diminish, they only heightened. Oden was a virtual lock to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft in the summer of 2007. NBA teams were giddy over the possibility of being able to add such a dynamic player, and wherever Oden went, he was seen as a guy who was going to change a franchise in a hurry. The winner of the NBA Lottery that year turned out to be the Portland Trail Blazers.
For Portland, it was evident that Oden was going to be their guy. And ultimately, when the draft came around, he was. The Trail Blazers’ management stated that they faced a tough decision in choosing either Oden or at the time Texas freshman sensation Kevin Durant. And they absolutely did, yet it was clear the pick would be Oden all along. The Trail Blazers and the city of Portland were thrilled. Drafting Oden meant the birth of a star in the City of Roses. It also signaled the end of draft frustrations stemming back to when Sam Bowie was chosen over that one guy known as Mike.
Unfortunately, sometimes in life, things just aren’t meant to be. What appeared to be a perfect match made in heaven never materialized.
Knee injuries struck Oden almost immediately upon the start of his NBA career. He had had trouble in the past, but nothing this severe. Approximately three months after being drafted, Oden had to have micro-fracture surgery on his right knee. As a result, his entire rookie season was lost.
Over the next four seasons, Oden only played in parts of two. His knees were just never right and he could never get comfortable in the limited times he was on the court. Ultimately, after five seasons in the organization and only appearing in 82 games, the Trail Blazers chose to release the former No. 1 overall pick.
“Biggest bust in professional sports history.” That was the talk in the world of sports. All the crazy expectations and comparisons, well, apparently they were all for nothing. This is what had become of the multi-talented and next big thing, Oden. And for such a mellow, humble and overall good guy, what a shame it was to see.
Oden’s basketball career was over. How could a guy with this level of hype ever be able to recover? And those knees, yeah, they weren’t getting any better. Oden had every reason and excuse to become the next Ryan Leaf or Jamarcus Russell. He had every reason to fall into a pattern of troubled behavior and serious depression, but he didn’t. Oden took the proper time off that his knee needed to recover and as of this season, he’s made a remarkable return to the NBA. In fact, he’s even playing with the best team in the world — the Miami Heat.
So, kudos to Oden. The guy’s an inspiration and a definite winner too. While he’s never going to develop into the player most thought, the fact that he’s fought all the way back from nothing and never ever gave up should mean just as much, if not more.
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27