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Greg Oden: What If?

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Yesterday, like anybody semi-connected to the Buckeyes blogosphere, I stumbled upon Mark Titus' Grantland piece on Greg Oden. I don't usually read Titus or Grantland, but anything about Greg Oden, one of my favorite Buckeyes, will get me to click out of respect.

Sadly, ever since Oden was taken with the #1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft, most pieces revolving around him have either involved his anaconda-like member or one of his kneecaps breaking. I've never met Greg Oden, but I've always maintained he was a venerable chap off-the-court, and Titus' piece only re-affirmed that notion. (If you haven't read it, seriously, please do.)

I know Titus killed this piece because nearly 24 hours later, the article is sticking with my vividly. (I'm 25, and like most my generation, my attention span only works in 30-second bursts.) When I read Oden being baffled by people asking to take pictures with him because he's "nothing now", it almost broke my heart into a thousand pieces.

I applaud Greg Oden for being candid and opening up. It takes a big man to give that type of interview in this day and age, and I'm glad he's finally putting a human life behind the images we see on television. I wish more athletes were as honest.

I can't help but wonder though, what if Greg Oden would have never had to go to college? Steve Kerr recently argued the NBA should raise the minimum age to 20, and I'm not sure I could disagree with him more.

When I was 18-years old, I moved 1,700 miles away from my hometown to Missoula, Montana. I had a dorm room, ten bottles of MD 20/20, and about three thousand dollars in my bank account from high school graduation and a summer job. I thought I was The Man, but in reality, I wasn't anything more than a punk-ass 18-year old kid.

I can only imagine if I had actually been The Man, somebody like Greg Oden (or at the opposite end of that spectrum, Terrelle Pryor), and I had girls knocking on my door and throwing their vaginas at me because they saw me score points for my team on television. Maybe I would have deluded myself into thinking I actually was The Man.

For a lot of elite athletes, the ones who will be going professional in sports, college campuses are nothing but extensions of their coddled high school careers. (I once had 54 minute Swahili class with a former Buckeye player who now plays in the NFL. He showed up 15 minutes late and left ten minutes early, every class. He only brought a pencil to class.)

If Greg Oden would have never been forced into college, he could've declared for the shitty 2006 NBA draft. (Adam Morrison was taken #3.) Granted, he could've still ended up with the witch doctors in Portland, but at least Oden would've been in a professional setting at an earlier age. At least he could've hired professional representation.

I fail to see how a year of dominating inferior Big Ten talent was in the best interest of Greg Oden's development. Now that his career has been derailed by largely preventable injuries, wouldn't Oden, at worst, have a few more million dollars in his bank account?

What are these kids gaining by being forced into college? It's a system which, despite what the money sharks behind our collegiate system would tell you, isn't for everybody. Most of these elite athletes are coming from high schools which aren't educating them due to their sports status or their high schools are shitty and underfunded. On top of that, some schools even lower their admission standards for sports stars. What kind of message is that sending?

Greg Oden was good enough to get paid to play in the NBA, a league tougher to make it in than the NFL. Instead of cashing in on his talent -- as anybody in America could have done at age 18 in any other craft besides basketball and football -- Oden was forced into the collegiate ranks. He was forced to attend Biology 101 and have his practice time limited by draconian rules which were written and are enforced by old white guys in $3,000 suits. He wasn't monetarily compensated for it.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Biology 101 is always going to be there. Greg Oden's ability to cash in on his athletic talents won't be. *Oden's Saggy Kneecap sadly nods in agreement*

We'll never know what would have happened if Oden wouldn't have been forced into college, because life is fleeting. As fans, we'll always have the next player ready to don the Scarlet and Gray, the next player to cheer. For these players, however, are bound their lives. I think it's an inherently unfair exchange, which is why I will always support the player getting his.