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June 2, 2007
ORLANDO, Fla. - Greg Oden's dominant performance in the national championship game was just the start of his coming-out party. It's now officially in full force as he makes his way through the pre-draft interview circuit.
Once seen as a relatively emotionless physical specimen with plenty of talent but little charisma, the 7-footer has rebuilt his image lately with numerous appearances, candid interviews and heaps of personality.
The Oden road show continued Thursday at the NBA's predraft camp, where the former Ohio State star checked in to take a physical, and he continued to rattle off sound bytes that reminded some of the playful ways of another dominant big man: Shaquille O'Neal.
"Despite what you read about me, I'm a likable guy," Oden said. "I'm not gonna go to sleep all the time, boring big man. I have energy and I'm gonna be excited to play."
A brooding image with an appearance far older than that of a 19-year-old, some believe Oden is not the kind of guy to be a franchise's poster boy despite the obvious talent on display when he had 25 points and 12 rebounds in that title-game loss to Florida. After all, it's universally accepted that Kevin Durant is more athletic, well-rounded and polished.
Maybe so, but Durant can't duplicate Oden's presence in the paint. Or, as Thursday proved, behind the mic.
No matter the question, Oden answered in a charming fashion - and even managed to compliment Durant.
"The game is basketball, you put the ball in the hole, that's really all that matters," Oden said. "It helps when you got guys who are freaks of nature like Kevin Durant, who's all tall, us thinking he should be down low, but he comes out, gets hot and hits five 3s. He puts the ball in the hole, that's the name of the game."
While many of his fellow expected lottery picks sweat out numerous questions, Oden was cool and collected, often responding in a jovial fashion. When asked about his ability to stay cool through a somewhat pressure-packed media onslaught, Oden couldn't help but go into a monologue.
? Florida left scrambling
? Pros full of cons
? Gators signees react
? Heath brings high hopes
? Rivals.com Power Rankings
? Jackson Draft Diary
"And I know I only gotta be here for 30 minutes."
Durant came off as a nice guy as well, but he didn't show the warmth or humor of his competition for the No. 1 spot in the draft.
"I'm not a bad guy, I guess. Never got in any trouble, never beaten up anybody," Durant said. "Just a nice guy willing to work hard, willing to do anything to win."
Even referring to beating anybody up counts as a wild comment coming from Durant, whereas with Oden, he spews somewhat outlandish things with regularity.
The intangible may seem unimportant to some, but consider O'Neal. Yes, he's one of the best players of all-time, but would he have been nearly as popular if he didn't have a lovable personality? Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson were on O'Neal's level talent-wise, but never showed the same charm and never approached the same fame.
Just in responding to basic questions like, "Did you know how good you were back in the fourth grade?", Oden provides something other than the also-ran answers one usually gets from a young player afraid to speak his mind.
"I didn't have any (skills). Skills weren't known to me. I didn't even know there was supposed to be five people on the floor," Oden said. "There's not a lot to do in Terre Haute, Indiana, so when you go to the boys' club everyday, something has to happen. I mean, I hope after being in the boys' club everyday for two years, you can hit a layup."
Oden has the ability to be an O'Neal, on the floor and off it. Durant, who won all the major college player of the year awards this season, is content saying the right thing and being appropriate, a smart but typically boring approach for a young person thrust into a glaring spotlight.
Regardless, he will be at or near the top of what some consider one of the best draft pools in quite some time.
"We rarely talk about it. We're just ready to work hard to get to the NBA," Durant said of any discussions he's had with Oden in regard to being the draft's top two picks. "I really can't say if it's gonna be (known as) our draft or not. We just gotta see how we play in the upcoming years."
There is no question, even among the other potential lottery picks, that Oden and Durant deserve all the extra attention they're getting.
"Greg and Kevin are some special kids," Florida's Corey Brewer said. "They don't come around too often. We don't mind not getting all the publicity."
Despite the virtual guarantee of being a top-two pick, there was some question whether Oden would decide to make the leap into the professional ranks. Some wondered if he was truly dedicated to the pro game, having strongly considered staying in school - mostly to enjoy campus life.
"I'm sorry if I look kinda different, that it didn't seem like I had the passion to come out," Oden said. "It's the kid in me, I'm 19 years old. I'm enjoying walking the oval at The Ohio State University. But when you put me out there on the floor, it's no difference who I'm out there with. I'm gonna go out there and I'm gonna fight, even if I am a little scared.
"If you dunk on me one time, I'm gonna come back and I'm gonna hit you wherever it matters to stop you from scoring the next time."
Now that's Shaq-speak. Which begged the question: What will it be like playing your first game against O'Neal?
Without missing a beat, Oden snapped back, "A couple of icebags after the game."
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