TERRE HAUTE —
When Jimmy Smith says that longtime friend Greg Oden “deserves a break” with the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2010-11 season, he doesn’t mean breaking a bodypart.
By the freakiest of accidents, the 7-foot Oden has done plenty of that already in his three-year NBA career.
Oden, who grew up in Terre Haute until his family moved to Indianapolis when he was an eighth-grader in the fall of 2001, stopped in town Thursday to attend a cookout at a southern Vigo County residence. The Terre Haute Boys and Girls Club fundraiser helped promote the fourth annual “Travis Smith Memorial Golf Classic Hosted by Greg Oden” today at the Country Club of Terre Haute.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Oden has played in zero (because of preseason microfracture surgery on his right knee), 61 and 21 games respectively in each season. Averaging 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per outing in those 82 games, Oden’s perceived lack of success by the national media can be directly attributed to injuries.
The latest, a fractured patella in his left knee suffered Dec. 5, forced him to miss the remainder of last season.
“It happened in a game against the Houston Rockets,” Oden told the Tribune-Star. “I was going up to block a shot [by Aaron Brooks]. I jumped in the air and my kneecap just broke in half. There actually wasn’t that much pain. The look of it was actually worse than the pain. They [doctors] told me that if I had kept my leg straight, I could have walked on it right after it happened. There was really nothing I could have done. They said the force of my jump — the way I jump, how my legs were — was at least 400 pounds.
“I got surgery the next day. I’m still in rehab, but I’m getting really close to where I want to be for the start of the season. [The rehab process] has been very long — a lot of ups and downs, good days and bad days. But things are looking good.”
Oden didn’t go into detail about his rehab routine, but he stressed that he’s focused on returning to the Trail Blazers’ lineup.
“I’ve just been working out,” he said between signing autographs Thursday. “I’ve been here and Indianapolis. I’ve been working out really hard with some people who are really good for me … basically changing my lifestyle, just getting myself right and being around people who I know and grew up with.
“Doctors have told me that I should be 100 percent by the time it’s all healed. I can’t predict the future, but I know I’m preparing myself right now to be an [NBA] all-star.”
Oden insists there was no specific reason for his desire to change as a person.
“I know what I need to do, growing up, maturing, 22 [years of age] now,” he explained. “It’s time to mature.”
Portland players will report to preseason camp in late September and Oden wouldn’t mind if an injury-free version of himself silences his critics in the national media this season.
“It does motivate me,” he admitted. “But I don’t care what they say. I know I’m doing all I can this summer to prepare myself the best. That’s all I can do. Anything that happens after that, I’m prepared for.”
“That kid, he’s worked his butt off,” Jimmy Smith mentioned. “I mean, I know personally from the time my family has spent with Greg that with the nutrition and the workouts and everything he’s doing to get in the right frame of mind to play this year … if things don’t work out for him, it’s not because he didn’t try.”
Turning their attention to today’s golf outing — started in memory of Travis Smith, Jimmy’s son and a member of the Ball State men’s golf team when he was killed in an auto accident in January 2007 — Oden and Jimmy Smith plan to make it a success again.
“Travis was my best friend,” Oden emphasized. “He was my brother. He meant everything to me. He looked out for me in ways I can’t even explain. Anything to do with him and his family, I’m there to support and I’m there to help any way that I can. It’s not like it’s something that I have to do when I come here. I’m just automatically here. These days [in early August] every year are already reserved for this.”
“I think the friendship that Travis and Greg had over the years, it’s something that Greg will always remember,” Jimmy Smith said. “This [golf outing] is something that means a lot to him, definitely. Greg’s committed to doing this, definitely.”
Smith said most of the proceeds will go to Boys and Girls Club programs and the rest will go to Travis’ memorial trust, adding that 240 golfers — split into 60 teams — will take part in the outing.
That includes Oden, who is not near the golfer Travis Smith was.
“I’m able to golf,” Oden confirmed when asked if the knee injury might prevent him from participating.
“I’m probably going to golf about nine holes. I know Josh McRoberts [from the Indiana Pacers] is going to come down … I need to work on teeing off, my drive, my short game, my long game, putting, even walking down the fairway. I’ve got to work on everything.”
Although today’s outing is a private event that discourages the presence of fans, Oden said he doesn’t mind signing autographs while he’s in town and he particularly enjoys discussing memories of Travis Smith with old friends.
“I definitely don’t forget how nice people are in Terre Haute,” Oden said.