During his only season at Ohio State, Greg Oden was a star center who was bound for NBA glory. He was simultaneously praised as the most NBA-ready center in years and mocked for his mature physical features.
In the five years since, Oden has struggled to stay on the court and out of trouble off it. Those who thought he would have a great NBA career, are now wondering if Oden was ever ready for the rigors of the NBA. A knee injury cost him his rookie season. Oden finally played in 2008. That season he also got a roommate, his veteran cousin from the Air Force.
"If you know anything about guys in the Air Force, it's that they drink a ton," Oden told Mark Titus, his former teammate at Ohio State. "My cousin got wrapped up in it too. When I played well, I'd drink to celebrate. And when I played poorly, I'd drink to forget. That second year in Portland I pretty much became an alcoholic."
The following season, a broken kneecap derailed Oden's career once more, just as he seemed to be improving his game at the NBA level. He has not played since the 2009-10 season, and his lack of playing time has caused the memories of Oden's once-dominant play to fade.
Now Oden, who was released by the Trail Blazers in March, is watching the players chosen immediately after him in the draft – Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, Jr., Al Horford, and others – have successful NBA careers.
Don't think for a minute that Oden feels sorry for himself. And don't think that he has any animosity toward other players in the 2007 draft, most notably Durant, the second overall pick and someone whose name will be forever linked with Oden's. Durant is a likely starter for this summer's Olympic team, and his career has been the exact opposite of Odens'. Make no mistake - Oden is fully aware of this.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't suck to see Durant doing so well," he said. "Only because every time he had a good game in those first few years, I knew I was going to get a bunch of crap from all my haters. But that doesn't mean I dislike him as a person or anything like that. He's a good guy and one of the three best players in the league right now."
"That's the worst part about all of the injuries and the criticism. It would be one thing if I had been healthy for five years and just sucked when I was on the court. But I can't prove what I can do because I can't stay healthy. Not having control over the situation makes it tough," Oden said.
Oden plans to skip the 2012-13 season while working toward completing his degree at Ohio State. Then, he'll try to complete his comeback, if he's physically capable of doing so.