As Greg Oden sat in St. Vincent Sports Performance on Saturday afternoon, the smile on his face was a little bit older then those around Indianapolis may seem used too. It seems like it was not long ago the pride of Lawrence North High School, the one that led the Wildcats to three consecutive IHSAA Class 4A State championships, was the number-one pick in the 2006 NBA Draft for the Portland Trailblazers. However, it does feel like too long ago that we saw Oden playing and healthy on the court, with his last game in the NBA taking place on Dec. 5th, 2009.
A fractured left patella, micro-fracture surgery on his left knee, arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and a third micro-fracture surgery later, Greg Oden’s smile has aged over time. With that said, perhaps Oden’s smile hasn’t ever been any bigger.
“As I told my friends, actually, as they told me,” said Oden on Saturday. “If you take out the possibility of getting hurt again, what other choice is there? Other teams, you know, it was good. But if I take out the possibility of getting hurt, why would I not play with the champs? As they told me yesterday, if LeBron (James) decides to get another ring, I get one too now.”
Laughs, smiles, and what seemed like an almost teary-eyed moment came from the 25-year old on Saturday afternoon, speaking to the Indianapolis media as a whole for the first time since agreeing with the Miami Heat to a contract that will pay him $1.03 million in 2013-14, and leaves him with an option of $1.14 million in 2014-15. For the seven-footer, the chance to play with the 2013 NBA champions was too good of an offer not to take, especially for a player that has gone through so many setbacks due to injuries.
For Oden, who has averaged 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game, it was never a question as if he was able to get back on the court, but rather when the opportunity would once again rise up.
“I wanted to play basketball,” said Oden, on why he never gave up hope to come back.
“After that surgery in 2012, my last surgery, the doctor said ‘Just be a regular person, go live life. If you were a regular person, you would be perfectly fine walking out of this place and not doing any rehab or anything.’ And I did that, and then two weeks later I was stuck on NBA TV. That is just what I watch every day. I turn on the television, and I watch NBA TV. I just want to play basketball. That’s what I love, that’s what I want to do.”
Oden has done much of his work at the St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis to get back on the court healthy, and as the center noted, he understands his body better than ever before. As he said, “I have to warm-up to warm-up”, but the members of the St. Vincent Sports Performance staff made it very well-known that Oden’s rehabilitation is completely over with, and starting on Monday in Florida, Oden will be in full-training mode to play this season.
While he was working out on Washington Street though, he would be contact with a familiar face to fans of Indianapolis sports, a wide-receiver that signed with the San Francisco 49ers this past week.
“I’m going to name-drop because I wasn’t the only one that signed last week,” said Oden.
“Austin Collie signed, and I always worked out after Austin. I would see Austin literally right after, and I would always ask if I was two weeks behind Austin. Because the following week I was always doing the same thing he was doing, and that always pushed me too. I’m excited for him, he texted me too, and there are a lot of guys here. I love this place.”
No clear roles have been defined to Oden as of yet, but he has seemed have set some health-related goals for the following season. He made it known that if he plays for a few minutes here and there one night, he would like to make sure he could do so the next, and continue that way healthy through an entire season. Oden seems to understand that he may not have all of his skill-set or explosiveness that fans may be used to seeing on the court from him, but he’s going to do everything he can to be playing 100% each time he steps onto the floor.
“I’m twenty-five now, and they don’t want to say it but I’ll say it, I have an old body,” said Oden with a smile.
“I understand that my body isn’t going to be what it was when I was eighteen, and I was able to run all day and jump over people. I can’t do that now, and it’s just not going to happen. My knees, the wear and tears of the surgeries, I understand that. But I’m going to play as hard as I can, and I’m going to try to jump over people and I’m going to try to run all day. If my body lets me, I’ll do it.”
Oden will make his first return to his hometown as a member of the Heat on December 10th, and will also be back on March 26th in a game that could prove crucial in the Eastern Conference standings between Indiana and Miami. In the meantime though, Oden believes he’ll be doing cardio, jumping, and agility training this upcoming week in South Beach for his new squad. It’ll be a new beginning for Oden, but not one that he’ll ever consider a fresh restart.
“I would like to say it, but for six years, I was in Portland,” said Oden with a smile. “I can’t forget it, it happened, the past six years did happen. I would like to say I just got drafted, but I don’t have first-round pick money!”
And with that, the smile came across Oden’s face once again. A little bit older, but a little bit bigger.