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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Greg Oden Makes His Much Anticipated College Debut

Odin is the primary god in Norse mythology, a divinity of war, death, poetry and wisdom. Ohio State fans are looking for a different kind of quadruple double from freshman Greg Oden: points, rebounds, blocked shots--and an NCAA Championship. Oden has been sidelined by a torn ligament in his right wrist but he made his much anticipated collegiate debut on Saturday, producing 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in 23 minutes of play as the Buckeyes overwhelmed Valparaiso, 78-58. Oden's wrist is still not completely healed--he shot his free throws left handed--but he showed that he can already have an impact defensively and on the glass. Ohio State is a very good team even without Oden--the Buckeyes were 6-1 before Saturday's game--and Valparaiso is hardly a powerhouse but it is pretty clear that a completely healthy Oden could potentially make the Buckeyes a special team.

Oden has a bright future ahead of him but if you are interested in learning more about how Oden became a top prospect then you need to check out Uncaged: The Rise of Greg Oden, Mike Conley and the National Champion Lawrence North Wildcats, a new book by Dave Krider, J.R. Shelt and Scott Freeman. Krider has covered high school sports for 45 years, Shelt served as an assistant coach at Lawrence North from 2001-2006 and Freeman has written about sports for Atlanta magazine and other publications in addition to authoring biographies of the Allman Brothers Band and Otis Redding. Dean Smith wrote the book's foreword, declaring in his opening sentence, "Jack Keefer is the only basketball coach in the history of Lawrence North High School, so a book about the dynasty of the program is actually one detailing the greatness of Jack as a coach as well as the talents of the young men who have played for him."

Oden was twice honored as National Player of the Year as he and Conley led Lawrence North to three state championships and recognition as the 2006 national champion by Sports Illustrated, USA Today and the Associated Press--but Oden was hardly an instant success as a basketball player. He stood 5-8 as a fourth grader, which attracted the attention of local AAU coach Jimmy Smith. Oden told Smith that he had never played organized basketball and Smith soon realized that Oden was not lying: "He really didn't understand the game. He did not know how to shoot and couldn't dribble. When he got a rebound, he would travel. He would stand in the lane and be whistled for three seconds." When Oden finally made his first basket in a game there was one problem--he shot it in the other team's hoop. Oden spent most of his fourth and fifth grade seasons on the bench but he worked relentlessly on his game.

Success came a little bit quicker for Conley, whose father won the 1992 Olymoic gold medal in the triple jump and whose uncle played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Conley displayed a fierce competitive streak at a young age--when his father showed him a tape of his second place finish in a race versus 1984 Olympic silver medalist Kirk Baptiste, Conley burst into tears, stunned and disappointed at the thought of his father losing.

Oden and Conley first teamed up as sixth graders on an AAU team coached by Mike Conley, Sr., the younger Conley's father. Oden was now 6-2 but his game was still a work in progress, while young Conley was a budding star. They soon became friends and developed an on-court chemistry that led to AAU titles, high school championships--and may very well bring an NCAA basketball championship to Columbus.

The hardcover version of Uncaged sells for $22.95 and is available at major bookstores or can be ordered directly from SportsPublishing L.L.C. by calling 1-877-424-BOOK (2665) or by visiting www.SportsPublishingLLC.com

posted by David Friedman @ 12:51 AM

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