Oden ignores NBA hype, has eyes on title
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Greg Oden says he wants to be an impact player in the NBA. He says he wants to go once he is confident he is a dominant player in college basketball. He says he wants to win a national championship at Ohio State. He says he's not ready to leave.
Plenty of NBA personnel don't believe it for a second, or at least don't believe he'll turn down the chance to be the No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft when he and his family see all the dollars available to him.
Still, like Joakim Noah last spring at Florida, Oden hardly is trumpeting himself as being ready for the league. He's doing quite the opposite, knocking his self-confidence and his ability to play at the highest level just yet.
During a sit-down interview a couple of weeks ago for a piece on "College Gameday" that will air Saturday night prior to the Michigan State game, Oden was quite candid about whether he's ready to leave, his recovery from right wrist ligament surgery, shooting left-handed free throws and his aged appearance (he says everyone thinks he's at least 35 years old).
"I haven't proven anything yet," said the 7-foot Oden, who didn't play in the Buckeyes' first seven games. "Right now it's really a lot of talk. I mean, I know a couple of guys right now who are really doing something, like Kevin Durant."
For the record, in the four games since the interview, Oden has been more of a dominant presence, going for 24 points, 15 boards and three blocks in a two-point win over Tennessee, and 17 points and 17 boards in a win at Northwestern Wednesday night. Oden leads the Buckeyes in scoring (15.4 points per game) and rebounds (10.1 per game), and obviously blocks (47 total), too.
Still, Oden feels like there is ample room for improvement.
"I'm really not that consistent this year and I know a lot of people talk about potential and that's what it's all about, but I need to see myself step it up and get consistent and put up numbers," he said. "Right now, I'm just doing things to help my team win, defensive stuff and blocking shots and rebounds. But the numbers aren't really there, so it's really just talk to me."
How will Oden know what to do when the NBA comes calling this spring?
"It's just a feeling I'll have," Oden said. "I'll know that when I play a good game, a decent game, and I know when I can play a lot better and aggressive, when I can take over a game myself. I know it's a team game, but you know the great ones can do that -- have their team involved and take over a game."
You might be surprised to learn that Oden, even with ample facial hair and his grown-man build, lacks some self-esteem. Oden said his self-confidence is always low. He said he expects more of himself than everybody else does. He said that when anybody praises him, "I know deep down inside that I could have done a lot better. It's all just talk to me."
Oden actually said that after he hurt his wrist, once he found out he needed surgery, he went to Ohio State coach Thad Matta over the summer and asked if he could redshirt this season. Now, this isn't Brian Butch here, Wisconsin's McDonald's All-American who redshirted his freshman year because he wanted to get stronger and more fundamentally sound before he contributed. No, Oden was ready to play at Ohio State, to take the body blows, to play even with his strong hand in a cast. Did he really consider redshirting?
"I wanted to be healthy when I played," Oden said. "I didn't know how much of the season I was going to miss."
Needless to say, Oden said Matta never thought he would be out long enough to consider such a drastic decision.
If Oden decides tomorrow to declare for the draft, he would go No. 1. As much as the way NBA personnel are falling over themselves for Texas' Durant, Oden's innate defensive abilities and offensive potential make him a lock for the top spot. But all that talk doesn't matter to Oden.
"I don't want to be one of those guys that people just talk about. I'm not good with people talking about me," Oden said. "I'd rather be the guy that just goes out and proves himself and there's nothing left to say. So when I go, I want to be like, 'All right, he's here, he's doing what everybody thought he would do. Enough said.'
"I want to make it there and I want to be an impact player when I get there. I don't want to be one of those guys who is just there. I want to be a guy that's on a team that makes it and be an All-Star and has a chance to always win an NBA championship."
To accomplish that, he probably needs to use his right hand for free throws and post moves. That's not going to happen this season, but Oden said he's viewing the injury as a blessing, because it forced him to use his left hand.
"I didn't use my left hand before, so now I can use my left and right," Oden said. "I still have to be able to shoot a turnaround jump shot, because I can't do that with my left hand yet. That's something I want to put in my repertoire."
With the left-handed free throws, Oden said he has the same stance he would have shooting right-handed, but he moves over a little bit to line up with the basket to make it easier. He said the plan is to "shoot straight and hope it goes in."
Oden said he holds the ball softer with his left than his right hand, because "I can control it more with my right hand and I can use more wrist. But this is just one smooth motion with my left hand." He said his right wrist still pops, making him reluctant to shoot right-handed. He said he shoots 50 left-handed free throws before, during and after practice, and won't leave the gym until he makes 8 of 10.
Oden also said he needs to be more aggressive, to be a leader, so if "my teammates need a bucket, then I'd be the guy that they could go to."
Oden's role model for college-turned-NBA centers is David Robinson, who certainly was a go-to guy for Navy. It's a good call by Oden. Their personalities are similar and both started out as defensive-oriented players. Robinson did take Navy to new heights: the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight. In terms of blazing a trail, Oden is trying to do something similar: lead Ohio State to an NCAA title.
"The biggest impact I can have is winning the national championship for Ohio State University," Oden said. "My dream scenario here has always been to win a national championship."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.