Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden discusses first season in BIG3, expectations for friend Mike Conley with Utah Jazz
Oden is playing for the Aliens in his first season in Ice Cube's 3-on-3 league
MILWAUKEE -- Everyone knows this story. In 2007, the consensus top two prospects in the NBA Draft were Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Blessed, or perhaps cursed with the No. 1 overall pick, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Oden. Durant went to the then-Seattle SuperSonics.
From there, the two players' careers diverged. Durant has reached great heights as one of the best players of his generation, winning an MVP, two championships and two Finals MVPs, while Oden, plagued by injuries, played just 105 games in his entire career.
The story many may not know, is that injuries were only the beginning of the problems for Oden. In 2014, just a few months after his NBA career came to an end, he was arrested for punching his ex-girlfriend. "She did not deserve any of that," he told ESPN in 2017. "I'm very sorry for it. I have to show a better example for everybody... It still hurts me that I put that lady and her family through that. That was not somebody I ever thought I could be."
Though it in no way excuses his behavior, that incident came during a period of alcoholism and depression for Oden, as he struggled to deal with the injuries that were destroying his career. "It wasn't like I was clinically depressed, but I was so down. I think I was probably depressed," he told ESPN in the same interview.
His problems with alcohol continued through 2016, when he was, in his estimation, drinking "every day" after his return from a short stint playing in China. He then decided to return to Ohio State to finish his degree and was offered an opportunity to help with the basketball team by then-coach Thad Motta. "That really helped me out to give me some direction, to give me some meaning," Oden told the Indianapolis Star earlier this year.
He slowly began to rebuild his life, and now, some semblance of a career. In May, he was selected No. 7 overall by the Aliens in the third-annual BIG3 Draft, and has suited up each weekend as part of a professional basketball team for the first time in over three years.
In Milwaukee on Sunday, Oden put together his best performance of the season, finishing with a team-high 18 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. He doesn't move like he once did, of course, but in short bursts you can still see the power, athleticism and instincts that made him one of the most dominant college players of all-time.
CBS Sports: This is your first year playing pro basketball since 2016, what was the process like for joining BIG3? Did anyone reach out to you?
Greg Oden: Andre (Owens) reached out to me through one of my friends out in Indianapolis. He wanted to get some guys who were based out there and get some practices in. It's fun, I enjoy it. I was a little nervous to start, but the league is so good, it makes you feel confident when you're playing in it.
My name was in the draft the first two years, but it just didn't happen. I'm happy it happened now, and I'm happy I'm able to play and play decent.
CBS: How has the change been to playing 3-on-3 basketball?
Oden: No transition (laughs), so I love it. I don't have to run up and down.
CBS: Do you see a future in this league, or do you want to use it as a stepping stone to something else?
Oden: I will be here as long as they have me. I'm trying to keep myself in shape. But I think this league is awesome for guys who just don't have that opportunity, or don't want to play overseas anymore, and 3-on-3 will kind of save your body a little bit. I think it's a good league and I see the fans out there and they get excited, and it's fun.
CBS: After the injuries and off-court, personal problems that you've dealt with, what does it mean to be back on the court again?
Oden: I'm thankful. My family, my wife Sabrina and my daughter Londyn, they're the ones who brought me to a better space in life. To be able to play in this is something I'm so thankful for, and so appreciative. I'm so thankful for them and Ice Cube and this league for giving me another opportunity to play the game that I love.
CBS: Former Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, who was there when they drafted you, said recently that you could have been a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate. What does it mean to you to hear that kind of praise, knowing that it didn't work out because of something out of your control?
Oden: It's a little frustrating because you want to be able to do that stuff. I want to be able to say that and have that trophy at home. But it's tough, it didn't happen and I just gotta keep on living with the path that God has for me.
CBS: How do you think your game would have translated to the way that the league has evolved?
Oden: If my little jump shot was hitting like it was today, I think I would have been able to handle myself. I know a lot of guys are spreading the floor and shooting 3s, you would just have to adjust. Just look at the guy here, Brook Lopez. Being able to transform your game and roll with the game -- don't take away what you do good, but add stuff. That's just being a good player.
CBS: Are there any bigs in the league who you really enjoy watching or following?
Oden: I like watching them all. You talk about Brook Lopez, his brother (Robin Lopez), (Joel) Embiid, Boogie (DeMarcus Cousins), (Nikola) Jokic, LaMarcus Aldridge who I played with, Nikola Vucevic, (Karl-Anthony) Towns. Towns is awesome. A.D. (Anthony Davis), all the centers in the league I really enjoy watching. I enjoy watching (Hassan) Whiteside, and (Myles) Turner down in Indiana. These guys, they spread their game so well that it's just enjoyable to watch. I don't call it the new big man, I just call it a good basketball player.
CBS: Lastly, it was a big summer for your friend Mike Conley. What did you think of the trade, and how he'll do with the Jazz?
Oden: I'm happy for him. He deserves to be in a winning situation. I know he's working hard. He's gonna do good out there. He's one of those guys that's reliable and comes out and does his job. I think he's gonna do really well.
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