When people ask me for a Greg Oden story, I usually tell them the one from the ’07 Rookie Photo Shoot. That was the year Oden was supposed to make his NBA debut before microfracture knee surgery delayed his rookie season for another calendar turn. At the time, we were still putting together our cover feature on Oden for Dime #35, and I was going to help get some extra quotes.
“Do you love basketball?” I asked Oden. His answer was something along the lines of, “Yeah. I mean, I’ve been playing since I was a kid.” It wasn’t so much what he said, but how he said it — he sounded like somebody who was trying to convince themselves of something they know isn’t true.
I bring that up because, when I spoke to Greg Oden this past weekend — one of the first times I’d spoken to him for more than a couple of minutes since that Rookie Shoot — it was the first time I’d gotten the impression that he actually does love what he’s doing. A few days before he was to report to Blazers training camp, all Oden wanted to talk about was how he’d been improving his body and his game over the summer, and how he’s ready to erase any bad memories of last season from his mind.
The Greg Oden I talked to is a guy who’s motivated and excited to be playing basketball. That — more than his size or raw talent — will be primarily what makes him an impact player at this level for years to come. Here’s an excerpt from that interview, the rest of which you’ll see in an upcoming issue of the magazine:
Dime: What have you been up to this summer?
Greg Oden: All summer I stayed in Columbus (Ohio), except for a few times when I went to Vegas, and then I went to Phoenix to workout with Jerryd Bayless. But I spent the rest of the time working out with the Buckeyes basketball team, playing in the open gym at Ohio State, and (ex-UNLV coach) Billy Bayno came down every week to work with me.
Dime: What was the competition like?
GO: It was pretty good. Other than this year’s Ohio State guys, you had guys come through who are in the NBA or play overseas that went to Ohio State, and guys who are just from Columbus. Brian Grant came down for about three weeks and worked with me, too. Like, Billy Bayno would take me through some moves, and Brian would show me how they work, give me a visual of what it looks like. He was real good at getting his shots off against bigger guys, so if I’m already a bigger guy, having these moves will make me even better.
Dime: What was your game plan going into the offseason workouts?
GO: It was just an overall thing because, I mean, I didn’t have that great of a year last year. I just wanted to work hard so that when next year comes around, I can feel like I deserved everything I earned.
Dime: How was the Team USA mini-camp in Vegas?
GO: It went good. It was a lot of fun, and something I definitely worked hard to prepare for. I was a little nervous at first, but I had some great energy and just played D and rebounded; I did what the coaches asked me to do. And who can turn down a chance to go to Vegas?
Dime: Did you see the Team USA camp as the capper to your rookie year, or the beginning of your second year?
GO: I saw Vegas as, like, a chance to look and see where I’m at now. I used it to tell me what I needed to work on the rest of the summer.
Dime: When do you no longer feel like a rookie? Or at least when do the vets stop calling you a rookie?
GO: It goes away the Monday when training camp starts.
Dime: There was a lot of hype going into your first game last year against the Lakers, and then you got hurt early. At that time, was it like, “Here we go again”?
GO: “Not again.” That’s what it was like. And I hadn’t even scored a point yet, so I was disappointed.
Dime: Was there a time last season when you felt like you were getting the hang of the NBA game instead of just playing catch-up?
GO: I got to a point right before the All-Star break where I was feeling pretty comfortable — I had a couple games where I was getting 20 and 10, I was playing pretty well — then I had that game against Golden State (Feb. 12) when I hurt my knee again and never got back into that groove the second half of the season.
Dime: Did you follow what happened with Michael Beasley this summer?
GO: Not really. I mean I heard about it, but I probably don’t know anymore than you know.
Dime: I asked because you’re somebody who can understand the pressure of coming into the NBA as a high draft pick and being 19, 20 years old. What kind of impact does that have on players that we don’t see?
GO: There’s a lot of stuff that comes with being in the NBA when you’re young. You have to be ready for it. It’s tough on some guys, and everybody handles it different ways. You can see, because the average career in the NBA isn’t that long. Something must be happening where people who get in don’t stay that long. It’s tough, man. It’s not even about on the court, it’s the off-court stuff — people coming out of the woodwork, stuff like that. Having a support system is very important. A lot of times I go to my Mom if I need to talk, and I have a couple other people in my life who I can go talk to who help me release the stress.
Dime: What did you think of Portland picking up Andre Miller?
GO: I think we brought in a good veteran point guard, a smart guy to help lead the team. I played with a him a little bit over the summer. He’s a really good player. I’m really excited about the team this year. I think everybody is gonna mesh. When we come together and get organized, things are gonna look good.