Posted: Tuesday December 5, 2006 12:39PM; Updated: Wednesday December 6, 2006 12:51PM
While recovering from wrist surgery, Oden strengthened his left hand so much that he shot free throws with his off hand against Valpo.
Matthew Emmons/US PRESSWIRE
Seth Davis will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his Hoop Thoughts column.
Because he was wearing the rubber cast, Oden shot free throws left-handed against Valparaiso (making 8 of 15), but Matta told me he hopes Oden will be able to resume shooting right-handed on Saturday against Cleveland State.
Once Oden's tendon healed, the only remaining question was how long it would take for his bone to fill in the hole left behind when the screw was removed. An X-ray taken early last week looked promising enough that when Oden's doctors spoke by teleconference Thursday night, they decided they would clear him if he passed his strength test the next day. Acutely aware that the test was approaching, Oden, in a rare moment of bravado, told the coaching staff he planned to pass it with flying colors.
When the big day came, Oden, who on more than one occasion tried to peer at the computer monitor to check his results, demonstrated the requisite 80 percent capacity on strength, flexibility and extension. He performed so well that on one of the grip tests, his right wrist actually proved to be stronger than his left. In addition to working hard to get back, Oden is also one fast healer.
"The advantage of being 19 years old is that when you're immobilized for a while you regain your strength pretty quickly," said Dr. Grant Jones, the team doctor who performed the test at Ohio State's occupational therapy department. "Also, because he's such a well-conditioned athlete, he was able to quickly regain the neurological control of his muscles."
Dr. Jones sent the test results to Tom Fischer, the Indianapolis doctor who performed the surgery on Oden in Indianapolis. Dr. Fisher sent a text message to Oden's cell phone telling him he was good to go. (Oden was at a Target store when he got the good news.) After Fisher called Matta's cell phone, Matta dialed up Groce on a different line and said, "You're going to want to hear this." Then he put his cell phone up to the second phone and replayed the message.
You can't overstate the impact Oden's early return will have on Ohio State's national championship hopes (provided the Buckeyes don't suffer any more major injuries). A month is a huge chunk of time during a regular season that lasts just four months. Oden now has four extra weeks to improve his conditioning, familiarize himself with Matta's schemes and develop a rhythm with his teammates. Oden's teammates also have an extra month to get used to playing with him. Best of all, instead of all this adjusting taking place during the crucible of conference play, it can happen during a period of relatively few games (usually against low-grade opponents) and lots and lots of practices.
Not that Oden should be that hard to adjust to. As physically imposing as he is on the court, Oden is just as unassuming off it. Last Friday afternoon, Oden told his teammates to go ahead and shoot the ball and not worry so much about passing to him. "Greg," Matta said, "let me coach the team."
Nor should you expect Matta to slow down his high-octane system. There are three things that start a fast break: a steal, a rebound or a blocked shot. Oden can do those last two as well as any big man in America (and better than many who are currently playing in the NBA). Then there's Oden's ability to run the floor. "From the day I started recruiting Greg I loved his speed," Matta said. "I'm anxious to get him running up and down the floor. I don't expect our style to change at all."
Matta, being a coach, is not going for all the giddy talk just yet, especially in the wake of the Buckeyes' 98-89 loss at North Carolina last Thursday. "You look at the Carolina tape and my gosh did we give them some things we shouldn't have," he said.
Matta can be a worry wart all he wants, but there is no denying that things have changed dramatically in Columbus. If Oden had returned in January, it would have been difficult for the Buckeyes to win a national championship. Now it will be difficult to stop them.