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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/30/2007 04:21:00 PM

Managing the Oden Show

Greg Oden
Bob Rosato/SI

Greg Oden
Luke Winn/SI

ATLANTA -- With Greg Oden around, a team manager's job description goes well beyond the standard water-bottle and jersey-distribution duties. The locker room scene surrounding Ohio State's 7-foot phenom on Friday at the Georgia Dome was an absolute zoo, but the strangest thing was not the 70-80 TV cameramen and reporters jockeying for prime interviewing position. It was the two managers sitting on either side of him like bookends, taking in the 30-minute question-and-answer barrage in near-complete silence, serving no apparent purpose at first glance.

Then it hit me -- perhaps as I was pushed into a post by the back of a TV camera, or when I saw 5-foot-8 colleague Stew Mandel buried eight rows deep in the crowd. The managers -- Matt Ullner and Ty Schepfer -- were the protectors of Oden's personal space from the microphone-jabbers. As the space-buffers sat next to Oden in one corner, I tracked down another Buckeyes team manager, Kevin Rohrbacher, for the official explanation: "Greg came to us during the tournament and said, 'I need people to sit next to me -- that way I won't get smothered.'"

The managers have been doing more than prevent Oden's claustrophobia this season. Rohrbacher said each Buckeye player is usually expected to carry his own bags, but the managers frequently end up toting Oden's "because he just gets hordes of people asking for autographs." John DeTemple, another manager, said that on the occasions where the signature-hunters are too large in number, "We'll have to escort him out, blocking him off from the crowd, because Greg's so nice that he would literally spend all night there signing everything."

Rohrbacher then told a story of how, after the Buckeyes' 63-54 win over Michigan State on Feb. 3, at least 150 autograph seekers were gathered outside the rear entrance to the Breslin Center. OSU could not afford to have its bus delayed, so the managers devised a way to sneak Oden -- as well as one can "sneak" a 7-footer -- out a different exit and get the team on the road.

The managers are repaid for their extra work by the fact that Oden genuinely enjoys eating his team meals at their table rather than with with, say, his fellow starters. When CBS' cameras were trained on the Buckeyes during the tourney selection show, Oden was not front-and-center. Rather, he was in the back of the room, goofing around with the managers.

"We don't go out [in Columbus] with him, but he always talks to us about that stuff," said Rohrbacher. "He'll be like, 'You guys get no girls' -- and as far as I can tell, he does pretty well."

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