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Oden’s best off-court move: Turn pro

ATLANTA

Greg Oden is ready for the NBA because the first thing he did following Ohio State’s victory over Georgetown in an NCAA Final Four semifinal game Saturday night was inquire whether transfer teammate Kyle Madsen could join the Buckeyes for their locker-room celebration and then questioned why NCAA rules prohibited it.

(He didn’t realize there probably are also NCAA rules prohibiting bathroom breaks at halftime and saying anything that might expose president Myles Brand for a powerless front man to more authoritative and evil figures known as athletic directors.)

Oden is ready because while teammates at Lawrence North High in Indianapolis last year were jumping around and rejoicing over a third straight state title, he sought out the relative of an assistant coach to learn how her daughter was getting along, the one born prematurely two years earlier.

In less significant ways, he is ready because if he waits any longer, his facial features will suggest the need to collect Social Security instead of an NBA paycheck. That, and college already has taught him how to mix in a little math with his biology class.

"There are 600 students in that lecture," Oden said, "and 400 are girls. I have a girlfriend, but it’s good to just watch."

The idea of whether or not a teenager is adequately prepared for 82 games against more physical and skilled players ceased becoming an issue when the first swell of high school seniors and college freshmen chose millions of dollars and hordes of groupies over final exams and coeds. None is entirely ready as a player. That’s not the point anymore.

But it always helps accelerate the process if the kid isn’t a complete goofball.

It would be a mild upset if the Buckeyes defeat Florida in tonight’s national championship at the Georgia Dome and a colossal one if it’s not Oden’s final college game. The term one-and-done has been applied to several freshmen in recent years but is a more obvious mark to designate a 7-foot center who has been compared to most greats ever to play the position.

It’s funny. Oden’s head stretches beyond most humans and yet he appears more grounded than those twice his age, which is probably somewhere between 19 and 49. He never seems too high or low emotionally. He never appears suffocated by the moment, maybe because he has lived in that confining bubble of attention since he was a 6-foot-2-inch fourth-grader and the only black on an all-white AAU team.

His maturity will get him through the early rough parts of an NBA career, and his talent is definitely good enough that he will be the No. 1 overall pick and put up numbers similar to when Dwight Howard averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds and two blocks upon arriving from high school in 2004.

Oden hardly will embarrass himself in a league in which young players such as Andrew Bynum actually play more than 20 minutes for the Lakers. Oden might pick up three fouls changing into his uniform each night, but he’ll adjust to the NBA whistle. Everyone not named Rasheed Wallace does in time.

"If Greg had told me from (the beginning) he was only coming for a year, I would have taken him anyway because of who he is and his beliefs and values and character," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "That was a no-brainer for us."

Would his game be more complete and his mind sharper with another year of college? Probably. But this column also would read better if I spent two years studying under Norman Mailer. You make decisions based on reality, not fantasy.

The NBA’s new minimum age requirement of 19 allowed Oden this memorable experience, which is a good thing. It’s just not practical to think it should last any longer. Matta says he never considered coaching Oden a challenge, but, rather, a privilege.

It’s how college basketball fans should feel when watching him tonight, assuming Florida’s front line doesn’t have him fouled out by the first TV timeout.

"I’m not focused on (the NBA)," Oden said Sunday. "This is my life right now. I like watching the NBA. I’m a big Dwight Howard fan. But I’m not thinking about (leaving school) at all."

He is ready because not only has he thought about it, but undoubtedly long ago he realized the next inevitable step. He is ready because in a world where no one in his situation is ever completely prepared to make the jump, he’s as close as you get.

The kid needs to go make his money.

It’s either that or apply for his AARP card.

Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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