-- The world's most promising future NBA draft pick doesn't have a driver's license, can't vote and doesn't think he's nearly as good as everyone else does.
Greg Oden, who turns 17 in January, will enter his junior year this fall at Lawrence North High School in Indiana and is expected to be ushered into the NBA as soon as the law allows. Trading cards bearing his picture are auctioned on eBay. Web sites, unbeknownst to him, celebrate his supposed demigod stature.
Yet the 7-foot Indianapolis native insists he might not be willing to make the homeroom-to-pros jump that many of his peers attempt. His stance is the exception in the world of youth basketball, where players often become obsessed with following their national ranking and finding the quickest path to a pro payday.
Seen as a cross between Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan, Oden says he wants to go to college and perhaps study psychology. He watched the NBA draft last month but only the first round, during which a record eight high school players were selected, and said he couldn't envision himself in a similar position in two years.
"Nowhere near close," said Oden, who participated recently in the Reebok ABCD Camp, one of the premier showcases for high schoolers before college coaches and NBA scouts.
The NBA appears to disagree. One Western Conference NBA scout said that if the league allowed players to enter the draft before they graduated from high school, Oden likely would be the No. 1 pick in 2005. And an Eastern Conference coach said that Oden is the only high school player worthy of LeBron James-like attention.
Unlike many of his predecessors -- namely James and Sebastian Telfair, the Brooklyn, N.Y., guard who was picked 13th in June's draft straight from high school -- Oden seems to tolerate hype more than he embraces it.
Telfair has been media savvy and audacious since middle school. Two years ago, after a highly anticipated summer camp duel against another top guard, Telfair simply said, "I'm number one."
Before James's senior year, Adidas staged a news conference at ABCD Camp, during which James was asked where he got his "King James" T-shirt. "God gave it to me," he said, half-jokingly.
Oden, on the other hand, said he "looks up" to some other players at ABCD Camp and needs to work on all aspects of his offensive game. Remarked one Reebok staffer, "He has no idea how good he can be."
"My mom always wants me to stay humble," he said.
His demeanor belies his surroundings. Three items bearing Oden's name are auctioned on eBay, including a rookie card the description of which calls Oden "the most anticipated big man since Shaq and the first superstar center to come along in a decade." (Seventy items bearing James's name were on the Web site before his senior year of high school.)
Oden said he isn't even aware of a Web site that promises to be "the future home of the future NBA star." Another Web site that says it sells NBA tickets explains, "We will have official Greg Oden jerseys once they become available . . . If you mention Greg Oden, we will ship your tickets for free."
The scene around Oden epitomizes the culture of amateur basketball, in which the public is fascinated with finding the next NBA star before he actually becomes one.
"That's the way the NBA game has been marketed after [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson] retired and after Michael Jordan retired," said Tom Konchalski, a New York-based recruiting analyst and basketball follower for 40 years. "The marketing genius that [NBA Commissioner] David Stern is, that's the way the game has been marketed now. Whether it's a Kevin Garnett, Shaquille, a Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady, it's a different game . . .
"[Oden] is old school. It would be wonderful if he went to college even for one year. It would sort of be thumbing his nose at this whole trend of kids wanting instant gratification, of coming out now, doing everything now."
Amid a storm of interview and autograph requests -- "He's tired," a Reebok PR person acknowledged -- Oden shared a rare lighthearted moment last week with Baron Davis, the NBA standout and Reebok endorser, during a photo shoot. Davis made him laugh and offered some advice.
"Absolutely I would recommend everyone going to college at least a year," Davis said. "You build camaraderie and find friends. Going to the NBA on your own would be hard. Going to college gives you a chance to have some responsibility without being an adult."
But the opportunity to jump exists. Reebok power broker Sonny Vaccaro called Oden the surest "no-brainer" top draft pick since James. At 245 pounds, Oden still has room to grow physically as well as on the court. He uses his size to dominate but lacks anything resembling a game away from the basket.
While comparisons to O'Neal abound, Oden has idolized David Robinson, the former Spurs star. He also gets bothered when people assume he will bypass college even though he says he won't. Because, for now, he's not counting down the days until his NBA debut, but rather until he takes the next step toward getting his driver's license. "Fifty-two more days," he said.