Posted Dec 17 2009 4:59PM
Today, he's hobbling, limited to keeping his leg propped in the air at his house and watching television, playing with his dog -- the wonderfully named Charles Barkley McLovin. But sometime soon, he'll put the crutches down and get back to the basketball court and feel like he did this season -- ready to dominate. Broken bones heal, Greg Oden knows. Others are dealing with a lot worse.
"Besides my knee, I feel good," the Portland Trail Blazers' franchise center said by telephone on Thursday, in some of his first public comments since going down Dec. 5 with a broken kneecap, an injury that will cost him the rest of this season. He does not doubt his body can hold up to the rigors of an NBA season, despite significant injuries -- microfracture surgery on his right knee, which cost him all of the 2007-08 season, a bone chip in his left knee that cost him 14 games last season and, now, this.
"I really do feel good, and I felt good," he said. "With that injury that just happened, my body was feeling good, and that thing just happened out of nowhere. It was kind of like a freak accident. But before then, I had no problems at all. My feet weren't hurting. Everything was going good for me. I felt like I was in somewhat (good) shape. I really don't know how to explain this, but it's not going to keep me down, just because of this little thing right now. My body still feels good, and I feel like I can come back from it, and I should still be in great shape."
Oden was at the Blazers' practice facility Thursday to meet with team doctors, who began manipulating his left knee in the opening stages of rehab. Oden was able to bend is leg 70 degrees, a very good beginning. He's still on crutches and will be for some time, but the doctors also said he could begin putting more weight on his foot when he walks, instead of keeping it off the ground.
For the foreseeable future, though, Oden will not be with the team at home or on the road. He has to keep his leg elevated and a 7-foot man on crutches is a disaster waiting to happen.
But Oden is optimistic. Given the slew of injuries on the court that the Trail Blazers have had, and the life-threatening illnesses of assistant coach Maurice Lucas (bladder cancer) and owner Paul Allen (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma), Oden considers himself lucky.
"Somebody -- I forget who told me -- said God lets this happen to people who are strong enough to deal with it," Oden said. "That's something that I've been keeping in my head ever since it happened. Just knowing that I can definitely come back from this, and knowing that this is just a minor injury compared to some of the things that Coach Lucas is going through, or Mr. Allen is going through. That's something that's very, very serious. What I have going on is something minor, and I know I'm defintely going to come back from it. So I'm thankful for that."
At the time he went down, Oden was playing the best basketball of his nascent career, averaging 11 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, shooting 61 percent from the floor. He wasn't putting up the numbers of Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant -- the second pick overall in '07 and, now, the chic choice of many who say the Blazers should have taken him instead of Oden. But Oden was starting to be a force in the paint at both ends of the floor.
"I wanted the numbers to be a little bit better -- who wouldn't?," he said. "But I felt like I was doing some good things to help my team, and making a lot of hustle plays. That was something I felt that I could come in and bring, just the hustle plays with some energy."
Last year, Oden seemed weighed down by the burdens of being the top pick, of Portland's team and fans investing so much hope in him to be the league's next great center after the franchise and city had seen the likes of Bill Walton and Sam Bowie break down early with career-altering injuries. Teammates and coaches told him he shouldn't put so much pressure on himself, that he needed to enjoy the game more and not worry so much.
But Oden then had the best offseason of his career. Working out in Columbus, Ohio, Oden was pushed to the limit and beyond by Blazers assistant coach Bill Bayno and Portland's strength and conditioning coach, Bob Medina. Bayno spent four days a week with Oden improving his post moves on offense and lateral quickness on defense; Medina helped sculpt Oden's body so that he'd be stronger and better able to hold his position in the post. Oden also changed his diet, cutting out the fatty stuff. The work paid off; Oden came to camp with renewed confidence. And so, with another offseason of work, he thinks he can do it again. (Bayno said he was "heartbroken" to see Oden go down again after doing so much work last summer.)
"With Bayno coming out and working with me, you definitely get some confidence in your offensive game," Oden said. "You feel like you can dominate. So even if you don't use them all the time, if you feel confident in it, you definitely feel like you can go out there and just dominate. When you've got that confidence behind you, when you're playing in this game, there's really no stopping you. It helped me a lot. I think Bayno knew that. We all knew that. So that's why he was there every week, all summer. We found the thing that was working for us."
Oden's parents, Greg, Sr., and Zoe, left Portland earlier this week after coming in to console their son. He didn't need a shoulder to lean on.
"She felt like she needed to leave," Oden said. "She was like, 'look, I've got a dog at home. He's been in the kennel. I need to get back to my dog.' She's gonna come back. She and my father will be back for Christmas. She's got a big house in Indianapolis and she was staying in a studio apartment here. So she was like, 'uh, uh, I need my house, my space.'"
Asked if he'd heard from anyone surprising since the injury, Oden said, he had: Durant, via text. The two may be linked forever because of their draft status, but they aren't especially close.
"The Nike guys had told me he had asked for my number," Oden said. "He texted me and just was asking me how I was doing. I talked to Brian Grant (the former Blazers' forward who also worked with Oden this summer in Ohio), he called me. (Pacers forward) Josh McRoberts, my good friend (the two played AAU ball together), he called me. And my mom's good friends with Jeff Green, so he relayed the message through my mom and he asked me if I was feeling good."
The Blazers hope that Oden may be off the crutches in two months, and able to start rehabbing in earnest in four. At that time, he'll have to start strengthening the muscles around his knee. (Portland's doctors are convinced that the chipped bone last year played no factor in this injury, and that a full recovery is expected.)
Oden is ready: ready for the hard work of rehab, ready for the scrutiny, ready for getting back to his career.
He's still just 21 years old.
"I'm definitely going to come back from this thing," he said.
Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT.
You can e-mail him here. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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