PORTLAND, Oregon – When basketball first drew Greg Oden here, it was as the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft with a promising professional career on the horizon.
The second time it did so, it is now as a student manager for his collegiate team. A decade removed from when the Trail Blazers made him the top player in the 2007 draft, and three years from the end of his injury-shortened NBA career, Oden is back in the Rose City as a student assistant coach as Ohio State takes part in the PK80 Invitational.
And if you think his return is anything but enjoyable, you’re mistaken.
“I mean, I’ve got great memories coming back,” Oden told The Dispatch on Thursday before the Buckeyes tipped off against Gonzaga at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. “I know on the court I wasn’t on the court that often with the injuries, but the people, the friends that I have here, it’s great memories for me being here in the city.”
A one-and-done player in college who helped lead Ohio State to the national championship game, Oden was limited to a total of 82 games in two seasons with Portland. He missed his entire rookie season, played 61 games the following year and 21 the next, averaging 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Then, after three years away, he made 23 appearances for the Miami Heat in 2013-14, averaging 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds.
But the time in Portland, where he dealt with multiple knee injuries and surgeries, remains a crucible in which Oden said he grew up.
“This is where I went from being a young man – or an older boy at Ohio State to a young man,” he said with a laugh. “I spent a lot of time here, did a lot of growing up, learned a lot, saw a lot and it definitely helped shape me and put me through the circumstances that got me to where I am today.
“The ups and downs, man. Everybody goes through it. For me, it was injuries. I wish I could’ve done better for the Trail Blazers and this city, but it definitely put me through the things that made me the man that I am now mentally.”
Oden said he’s been back since his time with the Trail Blazers ended. Before getting married in September, Oden said he stopped in Portland to visit his best man, high school teammate Brandon McDonald, who still lives in town. Oden said he still has his old place – it’s for sale, if anyone is interested – but doesn’t stay there because it doesn’t currently have cable.
Thursday, Oden said he and his family had been invited guests for a Thanksgiving meal by Darnell Valentine, a former Trail Blazers’ first-round pick who worked in the team’s front office for years upon retirement. At least one fan at the Gonzaga game was wearing an Ohio State No. 20 jersey, Oden’s, and he spent much of the pregame politely signing autographs and posing for photos with fans who approached him.
So really, he said, he’s fine with being back here.
“Look, it happened,” Oden said. “It’s in the past. I can’t change it. Nobody can change it. All I can do is move forward and all I know is great food here, great people and I’ve still got my place and my best friend’s here and some really good friends.”