Marc Spears, formerly of the Boston Globe and now of Yahoo! Sports, delivers a very, very nice profile of Greg Oden.
To rebuild his confidence, Oden began visiting a sports psychologist. "A little shrink," he joked.
The psychologist helped Oden "see himself." Former Blazers forward Brian Grant provided similar help, flying from Cincinnati to Columbus to work with Oden four times a week, on and off the court. Grant, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease, grew into a mentor of sorts for the Blazers' 21-year-old center. His words stuck with Oden.
One of the most regular complaints I received over the course of last season was: "Why are you writing about Greg's off-court behavior?" The reasoning generally went something like, "It doesn't matter whether he smiles or frowns, all that matters is what takes place on the court."
That line of thinking was, and is, a total crock. Athletes are human beings. Often young, emotionally delicate human beings. If their heart isn't in it, or they are struggling with family issues, or they are simply not comfortable in their environment, behavior off the court will often manifest before, or simultaneously with, developments on the court. Both sides of the coin are important to keep an eye on, although it's obviously much more difficult to ascertain what's going on off-the-court.
In Oden's case, it wasn't that difficult. It would be nearly impossible for anyone that spent significant time around GO last year to not pick up on his moodiness, his withdrawn personality, and his emotional ups-and-downs from day-to-day. There were definitely times that he was happy, jovial and smiling in front of reporters; there were also times, a lot of times, when he was not. It was just a fact of his life. I'm not sitting here killing the guy for it six months later; it was just a fact of life.
The Blazers have done a very, very, very good job of focusing the attention this summer on Oden's conditioning progress. That is something that Oden can improve simply through effort and it sounds like he's on the right track.
But throughout last season and during this summer, I've heard far more questions from non-team observers about Oden's mental makeup than questions about whether he will be able to continue a full recovery from microfracture surgery. Repetitive conditioning will get him where he needs to be physically; it's the rest that seems up in the air for many observers.
I have no idea where Greg Oden's career is headed. Last year it was very difficult to get a feel for his personality off the court and equally difficult to get a feel for his complete game on the court. But I can say this: Oden's raw talent level and physical tools far, far exceed every center present in Las Vegas last week.
No one there, not Memphis's #2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet or anyone else, belongs in the same paragraph with Greg Oden.
That's important to keep in mind because Thabeet, a rookie, is actually older than GO, entering his third NBA season (including the year he sat out injured), by a year. Crazy perspective, huh?
Oden's admission to Spears of seeing a "little shrink" is bigger, better news to me than 10,000 words about his workout routine. For anyone, seeking psychological help is a difficult process; for Oden, given his level of fame, the daily pressure placed upon him as a city's supposed savior, and the stigma that many professional athletes feel about asking for help, it's only that much more difficult.
Kudos to Mr. Oden for not only seeking help but also for talking about it publicly. Regardless of what happens during the rest of Team USA's minicamp, I've heard what I need to hear.
-- Ben (email@example.com)
PS if you're jonesing for another ride on the Greg Oden Hype Train, check out this piece by Zach Harper of TalkHoops, writing on Hardwood Paroxysm.
Zach even drops a line about "getting his Kevin Pelton on." I assume this means taking his shirt off and cheering wildly at WNBA games but, in the context of this post, that explanation doesn't quite fit.