Greg Oden Stays Grounded As Summer Flies By

LAS VEGAS -- After the ESPYs earlier this month in Los Angeles , Greg Oden stepped out of the Kodak Theatre and decided to check out Hollywood .

Greg Oden was walking alone when a voice boomed out from the barricaded area where VIPs were being picked up by limousines. It was NBA star Baron Davis.

"He was like, 'Big G, what up? Who you walking with?' " Oden recalled. "I said, 'Nobody. I'm just sightseeing.' He was like, 'Get in.' He was going to a party, so I rode with him, then he had his driver drop me off."

Just another day in the long ride Greg Oden has enjoyed as one of the nation's most touted amateur basketball players in recent years. Since the sixth grade, he's traveled thousands of miles every summer -- more than 15,000 this year -- to individual showcase events and tournaments with his summer team, the Spiece Indy Heat.

Basketball prowess has afforded the 17-year-old travel experiences some don't get in a lifetime. As his fame has grown, so has the list of celebrities who've sought him out. At the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year banquet that preceded the ESPYs, Greg Oden had lunch with Peyton Manning and Kevin Garnett.

Every place he goes, a major newspaper features Greg Oden in a big story and kids and adults alike line up for autographs.

But it's not all like that. Mostly it's planes, hotels, fights over the TV and sleep. And basketball.

The Reebok Big Time Tournament this week in Las Vegas marks the final major trip for Greg Oden and his best friend, Mike Conley, who have played on the same team since that sixth-grade summer. Indy Heat beat O.J. Mayo and the D-I Greyhounds 73-67 in the final as Greg Oden was named tournament MVP.

The two are heading into their senior seasons at Lawrence North High School , and players rarely go on the summer circuit after graduating; summer ball is for players trying to impress college scouts. Greg Oden and Conley, who have orally committed to Ohio State , likely will spend part of next summer in Columbus working out with their future Buckeyes teammates.

In the meantime, Spiece will go to Fort Wayne, Ind., for the United States Specialty Sports Association nationals beginning Thursday, and then that's likely it for organized team basketball until Lawrence North starts practicing in November, its sights set on a third straight Class 4A state title.

During breaks in action in Las Vegas this week, Greg Oden looked back on the past six travel summers. He said there was no remorse for regular-life opportunities missed -- in fact, just the opposite.

"It's great," Greg Oden said. "You get to see different places, different things, different cities. And you have fun."

His highlight came earlier this month at the ESPYs, walking the red carpet with stars of sports and entertainment. The first person he saw was golfer Annika Sorenstam, who wore a stunning silver dress and drew plenty of attention.

"When I saw her, I was like, 'I know who these people are. I don't belong on the red carpet,' "Greg Oden said.

Prodded into playing

Early on, it could have been too much.

Naturally shy, and at the time still uncomfortable with his rapid growth, Greg Oden had to be talked into playing in the Nike Jamboree in St. Louis prior to his eighth-grade year.

"He was like, 'Mrs. Conley, I can't go. I'm not any good. I can't dribble. I can't pass. I can't shoot,' " said Regina Conley, mother of Mike Jr. and wife of Spiece coach Mike Conley Sr.

"I went to Zoe (Greg Oden 's mother) and said, 'He needs to go to this. He needs the exposure.' "

He went and he got it. Greg Oden dominated the camp, after which talent scout Dave Telep proclaimed Greg Oden would be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft when he graduated from high school in 2006.

"George Raveling (Nike's tournament director then) walked up to me and said he didn't think Greg Oden would play a day of college basketball," Regina Conley said. Many agreed, until this summer when the NBA barred players who had just graduated from high school from the draft.

That same eighth-grade summer, Greg Oden saw the ocean for the first time. His team was in the AAU nationals in Cocoa Beach , Fla. , and he walked the beach. Now it's part of his routine whenever the team is on a coast.

Greg Oden and Conley have been roommates every stop of the way, except this week in Las Vegas when Greg Oden got his own room. The only argument they have is about television.

"I want to play video games, and he'll shut the curtains, turn on a movie and go to sleep," Conley said. "He'll make me watch it with him. When he wakes up and it's off, he gets mad."

Greg Oden cherishes his collection of movies. As a present last Christmas, he received a portable DVD player that he takes with him on the road. It came in handy at the USA Basketball Youth Development Festival when the players stayed in dorm rooms at San Diego State and had no TV.

His other love on the road is sleep. He's a notorious napper, even when visiting friends.

"I tell Zoe he's a big bear, always hibernating," Regina Conley said. "I wouldn't even notice when he was in the house."

On the court, he's been impossible to miss.

Winning teams

With the 7-foot Greg Oden in the paint and Conley at point guard, their summer teams have been arguably more dominant than their high school team, even when facing the best competition in the country. They've lost only one game together in AAU national age-group tournaments, and Spiece has won nearly every major tournament it has entered.

Such success hasn't always been appreciated. At a tournament in Dallas when most of the players were in junior high, a vanquished foe claimed the victors were too old.

"The team had to immediately leave the hotel and rush to the tournament headquarters with birth certificates in hand," assistant coach Eric Cheatham said. "The players they were accusing of being too old were actually the youngest players on the team."

That had a happy ending, Cheatham said, when the team enjoyed a pizza dinner courtesy of the proceeds forfeited by the protesting team.

The travel has provided first-time experiences for Zoe Oden as well. She was with Greg Oden in Las Vegas this week, and she also went to the Youth Development Festival in San Diego and on an earlier trip this summer to North Carolina , where she played cards with coaches and other parents during breaks.

On the way to the Gatorade Athlete of the Year ceremony, Greg Oden was provided with a first-class ticket, his mom one in the back. But with an empty seat next to him, Greg Oden was able to bring his mom up. It was her first time flying first class.

Like her son, Zoe has no worries about Greg Oden missing out on a traditional teenage summer.

"They still have fun and do things they'd do if they're at home -- play cards, hang out, go to movies, lay around, eat, sleep," she said. "It's just a different place."