The NBA's newly implemented age restriction has helped ensure that the Ohio State men's basketball team will be a national contender in 2007.

Greg Oden, the Indianapolis high school center considered the best big man prospect in a decade, said yesterday that he will play for the Buckeyes beginning in the 2006-07 season (he is entering his senior year at Lawrence North High).

The age minimum "didn't really affect my decision," Oden said at yesterday's news conference, "because I always knew I wanted to go to college."

But the NBA's rule that will prohibit players from entering the draft until they are 19 years old or one year removed from high school essentially ensured that Oden would go to college. He was the favorite to be picked first in the 2006 draft.

Four players among the nation's top 35 seniors have pledged to play at Ohio State beginning in fall 2006, including Oden's longtime friend and teammate, Mike Conley Jr., who also committed at yesterday's news conference.

The recruiting class, which will not be official until players sign binding letters of intent in November, has drawn comparisons to the Fab Five, Michigan's 1991 class that featured future pros Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard.

-- Eric Prisbell