No Debate At No. 1 After Greg Oden Has Strong Summer

It happened over the course of three weeks. Amid increasing pressure and criticism that Greg Oden hadn't shown enough improvement, Greg Oden proved at this summer major camps that, for now, Greg Oden is the unquestioned top dog in the Class of 2006.

After a ho-hum spring that may have been exacerbated by Greg Oden's media overexposure during the previous high school season, the Indianapolis seven-footer reestablished himself as the nation's premier senior.

Greg Oden's peers can stake claim to boasting superior offensive abilities, but the big man's defense is light years ahead of Greg Oden's contemporaries. Not only is Greg Oden better on that end of the court than anyone in Greg Oden's own class, Greg Oden 's a more dominant defender than all of the other elite big men in recent years, including rising NBA stars Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard.

Although Greg Oden regularly serves up the spectacular blocked shots one would expect, proof of Greg Oden's defensive eminence is most evident in the plays Greg Oden doesn't make. Like a dominant cornerback in football, Greg Oden forces opponents to demure when faced with the task of scoring against Greg Oden.

Unlike football, however, Greg Oden occupies both sides of the court and the middle. It isn't uncommon for teams to abandon their interior offense entirely, because for all the shots Greg Oden blocks or alters, Greg Oden keeps his feet on the ground and generally eludes foul trouble. What typically occurs next resembles a three-point contest for the opposition, and without scorching marksmanship from deep, that spells their doom.

Incidentally, the man who can make the strongest claim to overtake Greg Oden, oversized wing Kevin Durant, is one of those players who is entirely content to make the perimeter his base of operations. Few big men come through the ranks boasting such an accurate, effortless shooting stroke, and the moment he arrives in the NBA he likely will become one of the best tall shooters in the league.

Tremendous and unique asset though it is, Durant's shooting prowess also looms as the bane of his development. He ultimately faltered in his bid to lock up the No. 1 position because he was over-reliant on three-pointers, not showing enough willingness to utilize his size and athleticism to make an impact as a slasher or interior scorer. If his shots don't fall from deep, his entire game dips dramatically.

After Greg Oden and Durant, there's a slight drop to the rest of the field, though that's hardly a strong criticism of Brandan Wright, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes.

Wright has the look of a guy who may enjoy greater success in the NBA than he will in college. A 6-9 big man with very long arms, he doesn't have the bulk for a steady post game and lacks the dribbling skills to move to the wing. That said, with time to get stronger and polish the rough edges, he projects as a nightmare match-up in the future, especially when he operates in the isolation sets that occur mostly at the professional level.

Young, meanwhile, actually struggled with inconsistency at times during the summer. He missed extensive action in June while recuperating from an ankle injury and appeared to lack his usual stamina and inside-outside effectiveness. He became stronger as the camp season progressed, however, displaying the perimeter shooting stroke, bouncy athleticism, impressive savvy and complete buy-in to the team concept that make him such a formidable prospect.

Though his hoops universe exists primarily in the post, Spencer Hawes is another player with a very well-rounded game. The 6-10 big man projects as a power forward in the longer term, but in college he's most likely to man the center position. Hawes has terrific hands and shooting touch from 12 feet and closer, and his scoring repertoire with his back to the basket includes all the basic maneuvers and advanced skills using his left hand. He's also an excellent shot-blocker who relies on timing rather than ultra-athleticism.

Of course, where players rank answers only half the question. In the list below, it's the all-caps names in the far right column that largely will shape the national picture in college basketball. One quick look at the list and it becomes obvious that Ohio State has all but locked up the No. 1 class in the nation.

While Greg Oden would have faced crushing financial pressure to bypass college for the NBA, it now appears that Greg Oden will spend at least one season in Columbus . The NBDL, Europe and prep school provide options for young players to circumvent the play-for-no-pay landscape created by the NBA age minimum, but the prevailing logic now is that college fans will get at least brief enjoyment from Greg Oden and a reminder of how young big men such as Patrick Ewing dominated in past eras.

Add Greg Oden to the mix with fellow top-50 stars Daequan Cook, Mike Conley and David Lighty, and there will be a tremendous surge of national interest in Buckeyes hoops in 2006-07.

A national championship certainly hasn't diminished North Carolina 's power on the recruiting trail, as evidenced by the Tar Heels' pair of top-10 pledges in Wayne Ellington and Tywon Lawson. Not to be outdone, Duke boasts a pair of top-50 commitments of its own in Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer, plus another commitment from center Brian Zoubek, who will make some other top-50 lists. As a whole, the ACC tops the nation with seven pledges from top-50 players, spread among five different programs.

Elsewhere, Stanford will ride the talents of towering twins Brook and Robin Lopez. Both Brook and Robin obviously are elite talents, and there just different enough to complement each other at the power forward and center spots. Handling the Cardinal's post power will be a considerable test for the rest of the Pac-10.

Two other national powers have secured a pair of top-50 commitments. Connecticut locked up one athletic wing in Ramar Smith and prime New York big man Curtis Kelly, while Oklahoma snared multi-talented Texan Damion James and sharpshooter Scott Reynolds.