Greg Oden might be the next LeBron James. Indiana, North Carolina, Michigan State, Arkansas and Wake Forest are among the schools that have recruited the 7-foot high school junior...
INDIANAPOLIS Greg Oden might be the next LeBron James.
Indiana, North Carolina, Michigan State, Arkansas and Wake Forest are among the schools that have recruited the 7-foot high school junior. Other schools haven’t bothered, because they figure he’ll go directly to the pros.
Oden, a polite kid who turns 17 in January, is just trying to ignore the hype.
“A lot of people come up to me, but I really try to shy away from the attention,” he said, “because in my mind, I think somebody’s going to get tired of seeing me in the newspaper.”
He’s been making plenty of appearances in the national media. Oden was on the cover of Student Sports magazine’s season preview edition last month. Sports Illustrated featured him recently, and ESPN2 televised his team’s game against Poplar Bluff, the Class 5A champion from Missouri.
“He knows he must improve,” said Jack Keefer, his coach at Lawrence North High School. “He knows he’s not good enough, even though everybody’s trying to tell him he is.”
Oden wanted to pass the time, not grab headlines, when he began playing basketball in fourth grade. He had moved with his mother, Zoe, and brother, Anthony, from Buffalo, N.Y., to Terre Haute, Ind. There wasn’t much else to do, he said, so he began playing ball every day at the Boys Club.
The family moved to Indianapolis four years later. He had grown to 6-7 and was playing at Craig Middle School. That’s when Keefer first saw him.
“Everybody kept telling me they had this big monster in the eighth grade who was dunking the ball. So I went down and watched their first game of the year,” Keefer said. “The place was packed. … I haven’t seen a junior-high game like that in my entire life.”
By the next fall, when Oden enrolled at Lawrence North, Keefer knew he was ready to start.
“We didn’t have to play him into a spot; he deserved a spot right away,” Keefer said. “He didn’t score much, but he had the presence on the floor that adjusted the whole game.”
Oden averaged 13.9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game as a sophomore, helping lead Lawrence North to the Indiana Class 4A championship. In the title game, he made all four of his shots including three rim-jarring dunks and had 12 rebounds. He was an Associated Press first-team All-State selection.
This season, his Wildcats are ranked No. 1 and Oden is a key reason. He hit 20 of his 23 shots in the first two games this season, and through the first five games including a 56-40 victory over Poplar Bluff and North Carolina recruit Tyler Hansbrough was averaging 19.4 points and 10.2 rebounds.
“He’s a lot better offensively. He’s more assured of himself. He makes such good decisions when he has the ball,” Keefer said.
Even without the ball, Oden intimidates opponents with his size.
“It just automatically rattles them, but coach wants us to play such good defense that it really doesn’t matter that I’m a 7-footer,” Oden said.
Chris Benedict, whose Columbia City team lost 50-29 to Lawrence North in the state championship game in March, said Oden’s defense dictated the outcome.
“He just controlled the boards on the inside and did a tremendous job,” Benedict said. “We tried to get it out of his hands as much as we could, but we couldn’t keep him off the glass.”
That power is what draws scouts, who liken Oden to James, the No. 1 pick in 2003, and other high-school players who have gone directly to the NBA Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O’Neal.
“They think he has a lot of the intangible things with the defense and shot-blocking and rebounding,” said Doug Huff, rankings editor of Student Sports magazine. “They always look at potential, and they think that compared to the other kids who have preceded him in that situation … he’s on that same level.”