clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Greg Oden is trying to make a comeback off the court

The former Ohio State basketball great opens up about his injury-plagued career and his attempt at redemption.

Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns

“His old life will always follow him, haunting him, even as he tries to define his new one. He didn’t throw away his future; his body broke before he could experience it.”

-Seth Wickersham, ESPN

One of Greg Oden’s former assistant coaches once said that the seven-foot center should have been born a 5-foot-11 bookworm. For the introverted basketball player, it may have been the best possible scenario. Widely considered one of the biggest basketball busts of the modern era, having been taken ahead of Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft, Oden has battled injuries and addiction since leaving Ohio State after a trip to the NCAA Tournament finals.

After being taken first-overall by the Trailblazers a decade ago, Oden hurt his knee and missed his entire rookie season. Then, a series of injuries kept him sidelined during his second season. Oden became nervous to go out in public, and began to isolate himself to his home, steadily turning more and more to alcohol and pills just to sleep. After beginning to see a therapist in 2009, however, Oden began to turn a corner mentally, which helped improve his play on the court. He got through 20 games before fracturing his left patella on a collision with Aaron Brooks of the Houston Rockets. The Trail Blazers ultimately cut him in 2012. He played minimally with the Miami Heat the next season, but walked after just one year.

Then, in 2014, Oden pled guilty to felony battery charges after hitting his girlfriend. After the low, Oden reflected that “I just want to be a good example for my fiancee and daughter.”

So now, Oden is seeking a new life. He returned to Columbus in 2014 and has been steadily chipping away at completing his degree from Ohio State, which he should be able to complete in the next two years. He has a fiance and a nine-month-old daughter. And he is working on creating a legacy that lives outside of the one of a former NBA bust.

“I would always tell a new coach coming in to work for me, ‘Change is change, but in change are we getting better?’ Getting better is what we want. That’s what Urban wants.”

-Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, via Tim May, The Columbus Dispatch

Urban Meyer has not been shy about bringing in big-name coaching talent to supplement his staff and “enhance” his on-field product. In fact, heading into the fall, Meyer will have two former head coaches at the helm of both his offense and defense.

Greg Schiano, who played a co-coordinator role last season with the now-departed Luke Fickell, has taken over the defense. Previously, he had spent 11 seasons as the head man at Rutgers before heading to the NFL to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons. Kevin Wilson, meanwhile, is taking over the offense after spending six years as head coach at Indiana.

Schiano and Wilson are the second and third former head coaches that Meyer has brought onto his staff, the first being Dan McCarney from Iowa State, who Meyer hired as an assistant head coach while at Florida.

At Ohio State, adding Schiano, according to Meyer, “was a no-brainer.” Both share similar philosophies and an approach to the game. Wilson, however, proved to be a different sort of hire, and was born very much out of on-field deficiencies that needed to be remedied. While at Indiana, Wilson was recognized as a whiz on the offensive side of the ball, and Meyer recognized the need for an offensive refresh.

While there could be numerous potential issues in bringing on a former head coach, Meyer says that the key is making expectations clear from the beginning, acknowledging that the new coach was brought in to enhance the culture, not to change it. He also acknowledged that success is about building a team, not a dictatorship, and enhancing chemistry among the staff.

Wilson and Schiano are already bought into Meyer’s philosophy, and have used their experience as former head coaches to improve their current roles. “Having sat in the chair for 13 years, said Schiano, “I tell this to every assistant coach: Try to become a work-taker, not a work-maker.”

“Many students dream of going to college on a football scholarship However, even at the top level of college sports, few students go on to play professionally. This makes it important for students to make sure they are getting a good education while getting the chance to play college sports.”

-David Klenda, College Factual, USA Today

Despite Cardale Jones’s assertion that “we ain’t come here to play school,” as it turns out, Ohio State is the top destination for college football athletes to receive an education. (Jones has since graduated and has on several occasions acknowledged that this statement was a poor decision.) According to new rankings from College Factual, which rank schools based both on athletic performance and academics, Ohio State is the best school when comparing both success on the football field and academic progress for student athletes. College Factual’s rankings take into account a number of factors, including win-loss percentage, overall college quality, academic progress rate, amount of athletic scholarships per student and financial resources.

Ohio State’s on-field success cannot be disputed. Urban Meyer is 61-6 in five years with the Buckeyes, has made the College Football Playoff twice and won one national title. He has built an unparalleled recruiting pipeline and has sent dozens of players to the NFL, including 10 in the first round. But Meyer also emphasizes education for his players. Real Life Wednesdays have become a staple for the football team as players learn from business and community leaders about life after football.

As a whole, Ohio State boasts a graduation rate of more than 80 percent, which is well-above the national average. The football team in particular boasts a Graduation Success Rate of 74 percent, compared to the 71 percent national average. The GSR measures graduation rate for students over six years, and accounts for transfers to different institutions.

TCU, Duke, Notre Dame and Alabama round out the top-five schools on the list. At No. 6, Wisconsin is the only other Big Ten representative in the top-10. Michigan State comes in at No. 12, followed by Northwestern at No. 14. Per the usual, Michigan comes in behind Ohio State at No. 20.

“(Sean’s) OK. It’s not like it’s his spot. He worked really hard. He’s in much better shape than he’s ever been, so we’ll see at the end of the spring.”

-Urban Meyer, via Patrick Murphy, Bucknuts

Fourth-year kicker Sean Nuernberger has not exactly had a charmed time at Ohio State. After coming to Columbus as the nation’s sixth-ranked kicker in the 2014 recruiting class, Nuernberger started as a true freshman for the Buckeyes’ national championship team, hitting 13-of-20 field goals and 89 extra points on the season. But then things went awry as Jack Willoughby, a grad transfer from Duke, earned the starting kicker spot in the offseason.

Nuernberger did eventually win the role back, but it took nine games into the 2015 season to do so, and the sophomore finished the season with just three field goals and 17 extra points. In his first two seasons, the kicker holds 10 kicking records at Ohio State, including total kicking points made in a season and consecutive extra points (he has never missed one). Entering his junior season as the de facto starter, Nuernberger suffered a groin injury in fall camp, and walk-on kicker Tyler Durbin wound up with the job for the duration of the season.

Now, with Durbin gone, Nuernberger faces a new threat from, for the first time, a younger kicker. Blake Haubeil was the fourth-ranked kicker in the 2017 recruiting class, and Urban Meyer has made clear that the kicking competition is an open one.

Nuernberger has been an active voice on social media during his time at Ohio State, and recently posted a video to Instagram in which he hit a 60-yard field goal seemingly with ease, while former Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston held (Johnston recently signed with the Philadelphia Eagles). During his freshman season, Nuernberger struggled from distance, hitting just five-of-10 attempts from 40+ yards. While the social video shows Nuernberger is capable, he will need to deliver a lot more of this throughout fall camp to secure his role as a starter.

STICK TO SPORTS