During his lone season at Ohio State, Greg Oden was simultaneously praised as the most NBA-ready center in years and mocked for his mature physical features.
In the five years since, Oden’s struggles to stay on the court and out of trouble off it revealed he was not, in fact, ready for the rigors of the NBA.
In a rare and revealing interview with Grantland’s Mark Titus, the former No. 1 overall pick opened up about his troubles over five injury-plagued seasons and the ways he tried to cope with his failures.
After a knee injury cost him his entire rookie season, Oden finally got on the floor in 2008. That season he also got a roommate, his veteran cousin from the Air Force.
“If you know anything about guys in the Air Force, it’s that they drink a ton,” Oden told Titus, his former teammate at Ohio State. “My cousin got wrapped up in it too. When I played well, I’d drink to celebrate. And when I played poorly, I’d drink to forget. That second year in Portland I pretty much became an alcoholic.”
A broken kneecap derailed Oden’s career once more the following season, just as he seemed to be finding his game at the NBA level. And while he has not played since the 2009-10 season, off-court follies — like the viral circulation of a photo of his genitalia — began to supplant the memories of Oden’s once-dominant play.
Now Oden, who was released by the Trail Blazers in March, is watching the players taken immediately behind him in the draft — Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley Jr. and others — strive for playoff success while he continues his ongoing rehab.
Just don't think for a second that Greg feels sorry for himself. And don't think that he carries any animosity toward other guys in the 2007 draft, most notably Durant, the second pick and someone whose name will always be linked with Greg's. Now an MVP candidate and a likely starter for this summer's Olympic team, Durant's career arc has been the polar opposite of Greg's. Greg knows this, too.
"I'd be lying if I said that it didn't suck to see Durant doing so well," he said. "Only because every time he had a good game in those first few years, I knew I was going to get a bunch of crap from all of my haters. But that doesn't mean I dislike him as a person or anything like that. He's a good guy and one of the three best players in the league right now. The only reason it hurts to watch him play is because I know that if I got the chance to show what I've got, I could be making All-Star teams like he and Horford are, too.
"That's the worst part about all of the injuries and the criticism. It would be one thing if I had been healthy for five years and just sucked when I was on the court. But I can't prove what I can do because I can't stay healthy. Not having control over the situation makes it tough."
Oden said he plans to skip the 2012-13 season while working toward completing his degree at Ohio State. Then he’ll try to complete his comeback — if his body will allow it.