Earlier this year, I talked with the first pick of the 2007 NBA draft, former member of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Miami Heat, Greg Oden.
You played with Mike Conley in high school and at Ohio State. How was it like for you to play through years with him and be selected in the same draft class to the NBA?
It was awesome playing with Mike. I now know I did not appreciate him as a great point guard as much when we were younger. I always knew he was good but the game manager and teammate he was to me and everyone and to see how he is still doing it is great to see. The draft was awesome to have someone I grew up with and known since the 6th grade right there a table away, going through all of this together.
In the game for the National Championship you played against guys like Joakim Noah and Al Horford – very good defenders. How difficult was it for you to do your best against those players?
It was a difficult team to go against do not forget they also had Chris Richard’s & Mo Speights. I was not really thinking about them it was about the team playing well and doing all you can to contribute to help us win.
Would you change some of your individual awards for the NCAA title, which you almost won?
I would change all of them to be able to bring a championship to The Ohio State University.
During the 2008-09 season with the Blazers, in the games you played, the team had a W/L record of 40-21. Did you think that this could be the beginning of a potential championship contender with LaMarcus and Brandon?
I thought we had the pieces in place to compete in the playoffs and for a championship. I know I had to get better on offense and defense to help the great talents of Brandon and LaMarcus.
The knee injury from December 2009. Did you feel when it happened, that this might be a career-changing or even career-ending injury?
I felt it when I jumped. I thought I got kicked, but I was not thinking career changing/ ending I just thought it was another injury and why me.
After a series of surgeries, Blazers waived you in 2012. Did you know that this was coming, or were you surprised by that?
I know there was the chance of me getting waived, but I thought they would let me at least get healthy and give it one more go. After all the resources they put on me already, I mean I did not even play a full 82 games for them.
It seems that at some point battling opinions (e.g. “biggest bust in the history”) became as difficult for you as battling injuries. Would you agree with that and what helped you accept the fact that such opinions will exist?
I never battled with other’s opinions, earlier I actually agreed with it. As I got older and looked at the situation differently, I would not really care if you called me a bust or not. I know what I could do when I was healthy, but I understand if you want to be negative. And its hard to not look at it when KD will go down as one of the best to ever play.
Despite all the injuries, you focused on the rehab process. What was it about your mindset that would not let you give up and kept saying: “you can do it”?
I wanted to prove myself and the people who doubted me that I can play in the league wrong.
In January 2014 you played your first NBA game since December 2009. What did you feel when you walked onto the court? Was it happiness or rather disbelief that you actually made the comeback?
Lots of nervousness (laugh). I was excited to come back and just play ball again, but also, I was on a 2x Championship team. Playing ball and on a championship organization I was beyond excited and happy to be in that situation.
You had a chance to be a part of the Heat team that went to the NBA Finals, but you barely played during the playoffs. For sure it was great being a part of the team, but I suppose that you would love to be one of the key players in the Finals. Was it difficult emotionally for you?
No, it was not difficult, I trusted the coaching staff and they played the best players. I would have loved to be in the rotation during the final, but I would of rather won.
After time spent in CBA, you reunited with Ohio State head coach Thad Matta and joined the team as the student manager. How big impact did coach Matta have on your decision to focus on coaching and how did you find yourself in such role?
Coach Matta did so much for me in figuring out what path I wanted to take. I would not say at that point I was deciding to focus on coaching then I actually was learning and watching them coach as those practices gave me purpose after retirement. It was more of encouragement to get out of a down place in my life and be around the thing that was always joyful to me basketball.
What are your plans for the future? Will you try to become a head coach?
I do not know what the future holds in becoming a head coach. I know I love being around the game and helping/influencing basketball players to be there best and take advantage of all the things this sport can offer on and off the court. So, we will see.