TERRE HAUTE —
Multiple knee surgeries have prevented Greg Oden from playing center in an NBA regular-season game since Dec. 5, 2009.
But they haven’t kept the former Terre Haute resident from returning to help the Terre Haute Boys & Girls Club raise money for its various programs each of the past six years.
Back Thursday evening to attend the annual outdoor dinner to promote the “Travis Smith Memorial Golf Classic Hosted By Greg Oden,” a private event which will take place today at the Country Club of Terre Haute, Oden told me that he hopes to resume his NBA career someday.
The big question is when.
An unrestricted free agent, the 7-foot Oden disputed Internet reports that he wants to play for the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat and that he intends to play next season.
These rumors were fueled by a si.com report that quoted his agent, Mike Conley Sr., saying Oden “has talked about Miami.” Oden’s denial doesn’t mean he is ruling out a return in 2012-13, but he stressed that it’s unlikely.
“I would love to play [in 2012-13], but I’m not going to rush anything,” he said Thursday. “I need to take a year off. What I told Mike was ‘Look, I want to get back with a team. I want to play. If there’s a chance that later on in the [NBA] year, if I feel good or if I’m healthy enough to play, I would love to play this year.’ That’s the conversation we had. I think some people kinda blew that up and took his words and kinda changed them around. I know I need to get healthy first before I do anything.”
I admit, my preference would be for Oden to sign with the Indiana Pacers. But that’s just so I could see him play in person more often.
In reality, he doesn’t care which NBA team he joins.
“It’s not like teams are out there telling people they want me, because they’re not right now,” Oden explained. “And I’m not out there telling people I want to go to a certain team. I want to go to a place where I can get healthy and with somebody who can believe in me and my skills — somewhere it could be a good fit for the both of us.”
Getting healthy, that is the key.
A few months ago in New York, Oden underwent stem-cell procedures on both knees with the hope of speeding up that process.
Still, Oden realizes the possibility exists that he may never continue his NBA career, which so far has consisted of only 82 games (61 in 2008-09 and 21 in 2009-10).
“If it happens, it happens,” he said. “I’ve got to move on with my life. I know I want to play basketball. If I physically can’t play basketball, then I’ve got to move on … I’ve still got to wake up tomorrow. I’ve still got to live. One day, I’m going to want a family and I’ve got to provide for them. So if basketball doesn’t work out, you gotta keep it moving.”
Living in Columbus, Ohio, and working toward a degree in sports and leisure at Ohio State University, Oden completed a summer course in economics this week.
Asked what he’d like his next job to be after he retires from pro basketball — whenever that may be — Oden smiled before giving his answer.
“I actually want to be a [high school or middle school] gym teacher,” he said. “I feel like they have the best job ever. You think about it, they get their weekends off and they get to wear sweats every day to work.”
On a more serious note, Oden admitted that details in a story written for grantland.com by former Ohio State teammate Mark Titus — who plans to play in the Smith Memorial Classic today — were all true.
Among the quotes in that story attributed to Oden: “When I played well, I’d drink to celebrate. And when I played poorly, I’d drink to forget. That second year in Portland [with the Trail Blazers], I pretty much became an alcoholic.”
On Thursday, Oden insisted that he never experienced a moment of truth which led him to reduce his alcohol consumption.
“I knew I abused it more than I should have,” he told me. “It happened. I’m not going to sit here and try to hide it. People around me knew it happened.”
That part of Oden’s life did not last long, however.
“The people around me, they kinda recognized it,” recalled the 2007 NBA No. 1 overall draft pick and former Lawrence North High School and Ohio State standout. “At that young age, I was still in party mode.”
Now 24, Oden still enjoys going out with friends on occasion, but he prefers to keep his partying in moderation.
“Right now, I’m grown up and I know what I want to do,” he continued, referring to his emotional state of mind more than his height. “I want to play basketball. If you play basketball, you can’t drink all the time. You really can’t. It affects your body and it’s just not a good look.”
Looking ahead to today, Oden anticipates playing nine holes of golf in honor of his longtime friend Travis Smith, a former Terre Haute South High School athlete and Ball State golfer who died in an auto accident in Muncie in January 2007.
The golf fundraiser is organized by Smith’s father — Terre Haute Boys & Girls Club executive director Jimmy Smith.
“Every year. Jimmy doesn’t even have to ask me to come here,” Oden emphasized. “Like, literally, this is something that I want to do, that I love doing. There’s great people here. This golf outing is always fun. I really enjoy it. As long as my name is relevant, I will definitely be here.”
Jimmy Smith said 59 teams entered this year’s event and there are 44 hole sponsors. He also mentioned that the Boys & Girls Club staff hopes to open its new site at the former Chauncey Rose Middle School on Sept. 4 while still using the North Third Street building for its basketball leagues.
David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.