13 years later, Oden will receive senior honor

Adam Jardy
Greg Oden dunks against Memphis in 2007 during his one season as an Ohio State player. Oden, who has worked with the team as a manager and student coach for the past three years, will be included when the Buckeyes honor their seniors on Sunday against Wisconsin. [Dispatch file photo]

Greg Oden had a plan when he got to Ohio State 13 years ago. Although the freshman was universally regarded as a one-and-done college basketball player who would soon be in the NBA, Oden saw things differently.

“When I came in, I always envisioned four years, graduating as one of the best at the school, getting your letterman’s jacket,” he said. “That’s just how I thought. That’s how I expected it.”

On Sunday, a big part of that vision will become reality for Oden. When the Buckeyes honor their seniors before playing Wisconsin in the final home game of the season, it will be a group that will include Oden, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft who has spent the last three years working with the team first as a manager and now as a student coach.

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His degree in education, sports industry will follow in a few weeks. Oden is nearly done with school. And as the Grateful Dead, a favorite band of the man who helped make it possible, aptly put it, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

“Greg has always been such an outlier in terms of who he was and how he was personified,” that man, former coach Thad Matta, said. “How many guys down the road that he’s been could do that? Here’s the No. 1 pick, I still swear barring injuries he would’ve been one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball, and now he’s going to class with 18- to 22-year-olds and doing his deal. That’s Greg Oden at his finest. That tells you how special of a person he is.”

Matta encouraged Oden to return to the program when, with his body requiring multiple days of maintenance just to have one healthy day on the court, the big man texted his former coach late at night while playing for the Miami Heat during the 2014 NBA playoffs.

That got the process rolling, even if the official start provided a wake-up jolt for Oden.

“When I first went back and I was getting my BuckID and I was 28 and in line with all 18-year-olds, that was the ultimate, ‘What is going on?’ moment,” Oden said with a laugh.

Sitting courtside at Mackey Arena a little more than an hour before the Buckeyes took on Purdue last Saturday, Oden was equally lighthearted and thoughtful while reliving the path that led him to this point. The goal going forward is to find a job in coaching, he said, and he is planning to attend the Final Four and start the networking process as the sport converges on one spot for several days.

On senior day, he will be accompanied by his mother, Zoe, his wife, Sabrina, and his 2-year-old daughter, Londyn. Matta, too, plans to be there.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I could be prouder of a player,” Matta said.

After initially joking that he wanted the same memorabilia as the other graduates — a framed jersey, for example — Oden said he was surprised to learn that it would become a reality and worried about taking away from the moment for Joey Lane, C.J. Jackson and the team managers.

“We have loved having Greg around,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “His knowledge and life (experiences) have been helpful to our players. He, Sabrina and little Londyn have been great to have on trips and with our basketball family. I’m so happy he is getting his degree and beginning the next chapter of his life and career. We look forward to supporting him.”

Matta said once, after practice, he asked Oden why he had graduated from Indianapolis Lawrence North with a 3.9 grade-point average. His reply: “It’s my name. I have to do the best.”

When he graduates, Oden will become the first No. 1 NBA draft pick known to get his college degree since Yao Ming, who was taken at the top of the 2002 draft. He went back to school after an eight-year career, earning an economics degree from China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

“To be a No. 1 draft pick is awesome as well, but then this, me getting my degree is more about me growing as a man and expanding my mind,” Oden said. “Keep on learning. Keep on bettering myself. I’m just happy I could accomplish this, and it’s all so I can tell my daughter to go to college, keep on learning and keep on expanding her life, too.”


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