Oden working hard at rehab, eager for return to the paint
TUALATIN, Ore. -- You want a slice of Greg Oden?
He never disappoints. He didn't throughout his one year at Ohio State. And he didn't during a sitdown interview Thursday morning. OK, so he was a bit late, roughly 30 minutes, but that's fine. He was rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee in the pool.
During the interview, Oden was candid in discussing the reality of being out for his rookie season after having microfracture surgery earlier this month. And he continued to be just as humorous, self-deprecating, as well as passionate about his career during a live news conference later in the morning.
Then, Oden was finger painting with a local child for a city project. To see the 7-foot Oden, the No. 1 draft pick, with different colors on the tips of his fingers, ready to tackle an empty canvas was, in a way, refreshing.
Oden isn't painting an entirely new picture of himself. But he wants to ensure everyone that he'll have a clean slate when he finally suits up for the Blazers in 2008-09.
What kind of player will he be next season?
"A stronger one," Oden said. "I'm not going to get fat. I know that. They're going to have me in the weight room next week. But yeah, I'll be leaner, stronger and, the most important thing, I'm going to be 20 years old and be more mature as a person and as a basketball player with a jump shot."
While Oden was talking, Darius Miles was walking on a treadmill in the weight room. Miles had microfracture surgery last November and is expected to return at some point this season. But unlike Miles, Oden's injury wasn't spread out over the knee. Rather, it was just the size of a fingernail, according to Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard.
And that's yet another reason why Oden's recovery can't be compared to everyone else who has had this type of injury.
There are plenty of other reasons, like his support group, his work ethic, and the way in which he's carrying himself less than a month into the surgery.
He said both of them mentioned Amare Stoudemire and how he came back too soon. They told him when he talks to Amare, which Oden says he will do soon, he'll hear about Stoudemire's mistake.
"We won't have that problem," Pritchard said. "We're going to be struggling as an organization because he's going to be pushing us [to play him earlier]. We're taking this in a long-term approach, absolutely a long-term approach."
Also made clear on Thursday:
1. Oden said he and his mother, Zoe, were well aware that microfracture surgery was a possibility prior to the surgery on Sept. 13. His agents, Bill Duffy and Mike Conley Sr., both confirmed that he knew this was a possibility when he underwent surgery. So, too, did Pritchard.
So, according to Pritchard, Oden was saying a bit tongue-and-cheek when he said, "I was still drugged up and I didn't know they told me [after surgery that he was done for the year] and honestly I was sitting at home with my mom and the press conference came on and I was like, 'I'm out for the season?'''
2. Oden said he didn't hurt the knee getting off the couch or break dancing. No, somewhere between the draft and working out this summer his knee wasn't the same.
He said he can't pinpoint the exact moment when he injured the knee while playing this summer. He just knows he started to feel a sharp pain. "I said, 'something isn't right,'" Oden said.
Oden said his medical reports prior to the draft never flagged his knee (it did show he needed his tonsils out, which he had done this summer). In fact, Pritchard and Duffy said Oden's knee wasn't checked prior to the draft at the Orlando predraft workout, refuting any reports by anonymously quoted NBA personnel on the subject.
Duffy said Oden's back and wrist, which kept him out of the first seven games of his freshman season, were checked, not his knee. At the time, there was no reason to check his knee. He said Portland, since it had the No. 1 pick, was the only team that Duffy allowed to go through a series of medical workups. He said Seattle, which picked No. 2, only interviewed him.
There was also a point where Oden tried to hide the injury.
"I didn't complain about my knee when it first happened," Oden said. "I wanted to be a great employee. [Portland] drafted me and I wanted to come in and be great with no problems." That's why Oden was apologetic to Pritchard after the surgery.
"They drafted me to be immediate, I just wanted to produce right away and now I can't do that," Oden said.
3. Oden doesn't buy the "Portland is jinxed" theory, either.
He said everyone has told him he's not letting them down, that it's just a minor setback. This setback, though, is clearly worse than his wrist injury a year ago.
"Knowing that my NBA career won't start for another year, that sucks," Oden said. "But when I was in college, I knew I was coming back and around what time. I actually came back early. Right now, I know I'm not coming back this season and that hurts because I want to be on the court.''
Oden arrived for the interview in glasses, a red Blazers polo, jeans covering an ice bag over his knee, dark socks and sneakers. He was walking on crutches.
He said he will stay off the knee as long as he is told, take it slow and be on his Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) machine for the required six hours a day. This machine simply flexes his muscle up and down. The key now, according to Pritchard is movement, not any weight bearing.
Still, you can tell how much this organization wants to see Oden back on the court. Practice starts next week and this team desperately needs Oden's presence inside.
Last season's Rookie of the Year, Brandon Roy, was off to the side during Oden's media conference Thursday. He said he has been calling Oden, as have a number of teammates, to encourage him. He said it will be critical to keep his spirits up and make sure he's at practice every day (something Oden said he would do while also watching plenty of tape and going on as many road games as possible). Roy even offered up a few of his friends to run errands for Oden if need be.
Roy's first reaction when he heard that Oden was done for the season was disappointment, naturally. He said he called his father and told him "you're not going to see the big fella this year. I was disappointed, real disappointed more than anything since we could use this year to grow and get better and get closer. He could really use this year to get better and play against Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett for the first time and then do damage the second year."
Roy said he thought the Blazers could be close to a playoff team with Oden. Now, he's not ready to say the Blazers, who will lean on LaMarcus Aldridge, Channing Frye, Joel Przybilla and Raef LaFrentz in the post, won't be in the playoffs but the expectations are tempered.
"We can't lose anybody else,'' Roy said. "The West didn't get any easier."
While Roy and Aldridge are now the clear marketing faces for this franchise during Oden's recovery, Oden won't be pushed aside. Duffy and Conley Jr. said that Oden's multi-million dollar endorsement deals (including Nike) are all still good to go. They said there have been a few more that were on the verge of occurring but are presently on hold. Portland's marketing aim may shift its emphasis with Oden now that he won't be playing, but he intends to stay visible, possibly using his rehab as a marketing tool to show his good faith.
He'll be in the community, possibly finger painting with children, to return the goodwill that has been shown toward him since he was selected in June, and certainly since he was shelved for the season in September.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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Portland Trail Blazers rookie center Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, will miss the 2007-08 season after undergoing knee surgery.
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