Upon beginning our tour of the facilities Greg Oden has been using to prepare for the NBA Draft, it didnt take too long to realize just how accurate Indianas basketball state moniker really is.
From the waiting room table at St Vincent Sports Performance covered in old Indiana basketball magazines to the way that just about everybody we talked to came prepared with a handful of questions about the draft stock of somebody they knew, this place felt like home to a couple of hoop geeks living in the heart of hockey country.
And nobody embodies that feeling better than Greg Oden. The people around him interact like a family, with the connections between the various trainers, coaches, agents, and other supporters deep and well rooted within the basketball state. With a beautiful facility inside a barn and an even better one in the works, Champions Academy has pulled out all the stops. Oden has an athletic trainer, a sports psychologist and a media trainer all at his disposal. His agent, Mike Conley Sr has been there for him since he was in junior high, coached , even reared a point guard to get Oden the ball!
Greg Oden the person is a testament to all of this, a young man talented enough to turn the NBA upside down in the coming years and humble enough to actually appreciate the gifts he has been given.
In all honesty, our words could never do justice to who Greg Oden is. So who better to explain Greg Oden than the man himself?
On what hes been focusing on at Champions Academy
"Ive been working on my shooting, on a turnaround one handed jumpshot. Ive been working on getting it consistent, getting my arm up and getting a high release. I dont want Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby throwin my stuff every time! "
On all the great centers hes been compared to
"I think they are just comparisons. But I would like to pick up my game and become as good as those guys, because I know that Im not as skilled as they are. I dont score all the points for my team. Im focused on winning and my team usually wins, but Im not as good as those guys. "
On the specific centers hes patterned his game after
"I would love to pattern my game after Tim Duncan! I dont know if I will ever be that good, hes just too great, but definitely Tim Duncan. My turnaround jumpshot will probably never be as good as his was, but Im trying to work on my touch in the 10-12 foot range. But also David Robinson would be a guy Ive patterned my game after. "
On growing to 7-feet and becoming an elite basketball talent
"I think I was always taller than everybody else. Once I got in the gym, well, theres really nothing else to do in all of Indiana! I just went to the boys club every day and put in work. "
So you think that growing up in Indiana has really helped your development?
"I had coaches that were very skilled and that taught me the basics. They werent worried about the crossover moves or anything. I know thats a part of the game, but at a young age I learned the basics, and then being with Coach Conley helped me learn some very important things about the game of basketball."
On the positives and negatives of celebrity status
"I mean, I cant do anything anymore I was just sitting in the airport yesterday and people were coming up to me, and Im just trying to get on the plane! So theres some things like that, but to be honest with you, I like being out and around a lot of people. I like signing autographs and talking to little kids, but sometimes there are things Ive got to handle. I hate being the bad guy and telling them myself, but I guess thats why people always walk around with entourages. Just somebody to tell people, you got to go "
On dealing with the increase in attention
"I think I handle it pretty well. Ive had it for a long time, not this bad, but you learn how to handle it. I just try to welcome it with open arms, and always keep a smile on my face. "
On Mike Conley Jr
"Mike Conley has proved everybody wrong his whole life. Since he was younger, people would say that other guards were better, then when theyd face up Mike would smash them. Then people would say Mike Conley cant play in the Big 10. He just made a name for himself throughout the year, but in the tournament he really stepped up his game, and said Im not worrying about anybody, Im trying to win. And thats the type of guy that you need. When I wasnt out there on the floor he really took over himself.
Take out Ron Lewis, which you cant, he won that Xavier game by himself. You can look at him as a leader, basically what a point guard is is a leader. And nobody is going to steal the ball from him. Hes a leader and nobodys going to steal the ball from him, youve got an NBA point guard."
On his relationship with Mike Conley Jr
"Were pretty good friends. I wouldnt say we couldnt be separated, but the thing is we havent been separated for a long time, so its a good friendship that has built up over that time weve been together. "
On the prospect of playing with him in Portland
"Of course I would, assuming I go to Portland. I would want to play with him anywhere. I understand that this is the NBA, but who wouldnt want to play with Mike Conley?"
On the wrist injury, and whether or not it changed his perspective on jumping to the NBA directly out of high school
"Not really, because I wanted to go and enjoy the college life. I still wanted to be a regular kid for another year at least. College was something I wanted to do, and I want to go back. The age limit came out, and I didnt think I was ready, and through this year I learned a lot more about the game. Its been a great learning experience, and I basically would have gone (to Ohio State) anyway. "
On the wrist injury, and whether it changed his perspective on playing his sophomore year at Ohio State
"After this year? Yeah. It was kind of like, some things are going to happen no matter what. You never know whats going to happen that next year. Its a great opportunity to go to the NBA, and I feel like I can keep on improving and get myself up to that level to be a pretty decent player in the NBA."
On the wrist healing, his early comeback, and the improvement he made over the course of the year
"When I came back, it wasnt ready for me to come back. After that North Carolina game, I was so hyped up that I was going to come back and play anyways. Through the year, my swelling started to go down and down. Towards the end of the year I didnt have to wear the splint anymore but I felt comfortable with it. I think in the championship game was when I started to use my wrist more, and be like you know what, Im comfortable in the championship game, Im going all out right here'. "
On playing with all the young talent in Portland, like LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy
Lamarcus Aldridge was a guy I was scared to play against in high school because he was one of the best in the country. I remember we were at a tournament he was in, and he was just annihilating people. He is a guy who I really did look up to in high school as one of my peers that was really good. Brandon Roy, Ive seen him play a couple of times, and you only hear good things about Brandon Roy, he was rookie of the year. It would be great to play with those guys. But Im not going to say that is written in stone, because its not.
On the situation in Seattle
I was just watching He Got Game yesterday with Ray Allen. You know what? Seattle was a team, that every time I saw them play they were beating good teams. I dont know how they didnt make the playoffs. When it came up I was like they didnt make the playoffs? They were a team when you see them on TV, the arena is sold out and the fans were going crazy. I know it rains in both places, so wherever I go, I need to get a raincoat! "