Oden-mania grips Final Four; young center unfazed
Posted: Friday March 30, 2007 7:01PM; Updated: Friday March 30, 2007 11:24PM
ATLANTA -- At 1:30 p.m. Friday, the doors to Ohio State's Georgia Dome locker room opened, and a not-so-small army of reporters and cameramen immediately bolted to the near-right corner to surround a particular 7-foot center. At that point, mind you, I could not have told you for certain that the subject at the center of this paparazzi was in fact Greg Oden, because, unfortunately, I was stuck in about the eighth row of the circle.
By 1:34, I was able to move up far enough to make a positive facial identification (yes, even 7-footers get lost in the crowd when seated on a folding chair). By 1:38, I finally got close enough to Oden and his pair of student-manager bodyguards/flankers to hear this morsel of knowledge about his much-anticipated matchup with 7-2 Georgetown center Roy Hibbert on Saturday: "I don't know -- we kind of play similar. I'm just going to go out and play hard."
Immediately, about 75 men and women scribbled down each of those precious words, then waited on his answers -- most of them far more amusing -- to such other queries as:
Outside of basketball, how have you been enjoying college? ("I'm loving it. It's spring quarter -- you get to see shorts and tank tops.")
"If you were watching at home, do you think you would appreciate this matchup?" ("Yeah, but I don't watch much college basketball at home, so I probably wouldn't be watching.")
"What did you learn in your rock 'n' roll class?" ("That class is over -- I've forgotten it already")
"What's the last movie you saw?" ("Chris Rock's I Think I Love My Wife.)
And, "What does Jesus mean to you?" ("He's basically everything.")
I didn't stay the entire 30 minutes, so I can't say for sure whether or not he was asked his stance on the Iraq War, Global Warming or the likely father of Anna Nicole Smith's daughter -- but I wouldn't have ruled it out.
From Florida's starting five of household faces to UCLA's All-America backcourt to Georgetown's famous namesake coach, the 2007 Final Four is loaded with more star power than any in recent memory. Walking around here Friday, it seems almost hard to believe this is the same event whose main attractions not so long ago were Mateen Cleaves and Juan Dixon.
Without question, however, the biggest attraction of all this year is Ohio State's vaunted 19-year-old freshman center.
How can he not be?
The nation's basketball followers have only been hearing about Oden's legend-in-the-making from the time he was a sophomore in high school. We've been hearing for at least three years now about his sure-fire status as an eventual No. 1 NBA pick. And from the day nearly two years ago that he made his somewhat surprising decision to play for the then-unheralded Buckeyes, we've been hearing about how he and the rest of the so-called "Thad Five" would lead the Buckeyes to the promised land as freshmen.
Well ... here they are at the promised land. Saturday night, "The Franchise," as some call Oden, will play on the biggest stage to date of his still-fledgling career -- against a rare, worthy adversary at that. This isn't a Wednesday night ESPN game against Indiana, this isn't a Sweet 16 game being shown to 45 percent of the country. This is the Final Four, and the world will be watching. If all the prophecies about Oden's eventual dominance prove to be correct, this could be a moment we look back on one day, much the same way we do Patrick Ewing's and Akeem Olajuwon's showdown in 1984 or Lew Alcindor's and Bill Walton's national championship runs in the '70s.
As of today, however, Oden is still a quiet, somewhat goofy freshman who spent much of Friday living the life of an exotic zoo animal -- or perhaps a priceless art exhibit.
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