With the end of March Madness less than a few weeks away, there has been a ton of speculation over whether freshman college basketball sensations Greg Oden (Ohio State Buckeyes center) and Kevin Durant (Texas Longhorns guard-forward) will turn pro at the end of the season. Long before these Diaper Dandies even set foot on their college campuses, they had already been pinned the # 1 and # 2 picks respectively in the 2006 NBA Draft. The only thing that kept these McDonalds All-Americans from cashing in on their NBA potential was the NBAâ€™s new draft rule, which requires players to be a year out of high school before they can become draft-eligible.
As a current student at The Ohio State University, I have heard the seemingly never-ending local chatter about how Greg Oden will remain a Buckeye and forgo his chance to enter the 2007 Draft. Greg Oden hasÂ implied countlessÂ times to the media that he will stay at Ohio State. He has said that he enjoys the college atmosphere and he needs more time to mature and hone his offensive skills before he will be ready to compete at the NBA level.
Regardless of whether Oden truly believes he will retain his college eligibility and keep the â€œThad 5â€ in tact for another season, these promises reflect the naivety of an 18-year-old kid. Once the decision becomes a reality in the near future and Oden must actually choose his destiny, Oden will find it much more difficult to make good on his promises. The allure of millions of dollars that will come with being the #1 pick in the draft will make the cries of â€œone more yearâ€ from Buckeye fans (after the Big Ten regular-season championship at the Value City Arena) and Odenâ€™s loyalties to high school and current teammate Mike Conley Jr. fade away fast, very fast.
Despite what Oden may say to placate fans and get the media off his back as he focuses on helping the Buckeyes get to the Final Four in Atlanta, recent events point to his departure for the NBA.
Mike Conley Sr., who coached Oden in the sixth grade and remains close to him, has allegedly been sighted leaving Wasserman Media Group, the home of NBA premier agent, Arn Tellem. Additionally,Â Conley Sr. has recently opened up his own agency called Mac Management Group. Conley Sr. adamantly denies that his new sports agency implies that Oden is coming out. But if you read between the lines, commonsense and the writing on the wall will tell you a different storyâ€” say goodbye to Mr. Oden.
Back in the fall, as I walked to the gym at Ohio State with a buddy of mine, we observed Oden as he walked through a crowd of average-sized college students on his way to class. We were absolutely shocked how a single person did not even turn to look as the 7-foot giant walked past them. I guess the Buckeye faithful were too busy looking ahead to their #1 rated football team getting to the BCS National Championship game. Whatever the reason, they did not recognize the highest-rated center to hit a college campus since Patrick Ewing in the 80s.
These days itâ€™s different, however, as Oden cannot even walk two-feet without somebody stopping him or hounding him for an autograph, no matter where he goes in Columbus. His notoriety has not only reached rockstar status in Columbus, it has spilled out of the Buckeye state across the nation.
With both Oden and Durantâ€™s national popularity, these college stars will be able to cash in on multi-million dollar endorsement deals if they enter the June draft. A year ago, these lucrative deals might not have presented themselves to these two if they would have been permitted to make the jump to the NBA straight out of high school.
Playing college basketball has really paid dividends for Oden and Durant, as even the average Joe Schmoe across the country recognizes their names now. Trust me, it would be another story if they were up-and-coming players with star potential in the NBA, whose names would be recognizable only among basketball enthusiasts.
With all the ballyhoo surrounding these basketball phenoms, the decision that that these two will face in the next month should be an easy one.
While I commend Tim Duncan for his decision to stay at Wake Forest for four years, which enabled him to acquire the nickname â€œMr. Fundamentalâ€ in the NBA, I would strongly advise Oden and Durant not to follow in his footsteps.
While the opportunity to finish your college education will always be there, the opportunity to be a lottery pick in the NBA will not. NBA scouts may say that even if Oden and Durant decide to stay in college, their draft positions will not change. While this may be true, way too much is at stake. Staying in college poses too many risks.
Their respective draft stocks could slip in the future after the hype surrounding their games realistically takes a hit as certain flaws in their games are exposed.
After helping the Gators win it all last year, Joakim Noah was pinned the #1 draft pick in the 2006 NBA draft. This year, after scouts found out that his jumper is suspect at best, his draft stock has slipped to a mid to late lottery pick. Big Baby from LSU has also seen his draft stock slip from a lottery pick a year ago to a second round pick at best in this yearâ€™s draft after a dismal season.
Even worse, there is always the risk of injury. Luckily, Clippers guard Sean Livingston decided to pass up playing for Coach K at Duke or else he might not have ever seen the millions he made in the NBA after he recently blew out his knee on an uncontested lay-up.
The same can be said for many others.
While Durant seems to be more open about his decision to forgo his sophomore season to enter the draft (even though he has not openly declared as of yet), Oden, for whatever reason, has been quite the opposite.
After Texasâ€™s blowout loss to USC and an early bounce from March Madness, it is only a matter of days before Durant will announce his departure.
As Mike Conley Sr. and presumably as Odenâ€™s agent, I would advise Oden to follow in the footsteps of fellow freshman superstar Durant.
While you can return to finish your college education at any time, you may never get the chance to be the #1 pick in the NBA draft again.
Go Oden Go!