Greg Oden Remains Serious About Academics

Donna Chamberlain sees a side of Greg Oden she believes few others know. A math instructor at Lawrence North High School , Chamberlain teaches one of the school's more difficult math courses: Probability and Statistics. Greg Oden is in the class, the third time he has had Chamberlain as a teacher. She has come to know him as well as any student she's had in her 15 years. The telltale signs of a real student, she says, are there.

"If there was a problem that was worth five points and he got only two or three points, he would ask why," Chamberlain said. "Anytime he didn't understand something, he would be at my desk asking questions until he fully understood the problem."

Of all the high school students in America this fall, few would seem better positioned to coast than Greg Oden. The reigning national prep basketball Player of the Year, he has been projected as a future NBA star since the ninth grade. Next year, he plans to attend Ohio State University , where he'll be the most talked about freshman -- possibly player -- in college basketball.

What is overlooked is that he'll also be a college student. His friends, family and teachers say that means much more to him than most realize.

Instead of a 7-foot shot-blocking phenom, they speak of an aspiring accounting major who has a 3.6 grade-point average, including three perfect 4.0 semesters. They see a curious, inquisitive kid who throughout high school has taken courses indicative of someone bound for college, not a big-time athlete trying to stay eligible.

They remember how in May, when Greg Oden 's cousin, Brian Bufford, graduated from the University at Buffalo, becoming the first person on his mother's side to earn a college degree. Greg Oden skipped an important AAU tournament to be there.

"He was very proud," Greg's mother Zoe Oden said. "Very proud."

The national perception has been very different.

Before last June, when the NBA enacted a rule prohibiting players from entering the draft right out of high school, Greg Oden was ignored -- or worse -- when he repeatedly said he planned to attend college. Pointing out the growing trend of preps-to-pros players, many of whom were nowhere near Greg Oden 's caliber, longtime recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said anyone who believed such talk was "naive." An article by CBS Sports commentator Seth Davis on SI.com, titled "Brutally Dishonest?", practically mocked Greg Oden for stating his collegiate intentions so often and so earnestly.

Now, the assumption is that he won't attend Ohio State for more than the one year the NBA requires. The idea that he'd spend all four years and graduate isn't even considered. Greg Oden acknowledges resisting the NBA that long will be difficult, but he insists he might.

"Finishing school would mean a lot," he said. "I want to further myself in areas other than just basketball."

Having so many doubt his earnestness doesn't seem to bother him, but it does others. Chamberlain said it "makes me laugh."

"The real Greg Oden works for everything he has and is so thankful for everything he has," she said.

"I think he likes the (new NBA draft) rule. I know how badly he wanted to go to college, but the pressure was so great. I think the rule let Greg Oden be Greg Oden."

 

All About Work

Greg Oden lights up at the mention of his cousin Brian's graduation in Buffalo .

"Everybody was all excited," Greg Oden said Thursday after school. "He's doing something with himself. A lot of people in my family are working hard every day and barely making it. He's got a chance to really do something."

Zoe Oden, a rehabilitation technician at a local hospital, has an associate's degree in accounting. Greg Oden 's father, Greg Sr., runs his own plumbing and heating company in Buffalo . Their son says both taught him the value of education.

"Greg's been a good student since pre-kindergarten," Zoe said. "I've never had to push him.

"He's always been a good student. Even his first-grade teacher, who used to do special things with the kids as reward -- treat them to a movie or something, everybody that got A's -- she saw he was a good student."

Yet this isn't some fairy-tale story of a boy genius in a 7-foot frame, as Greg Oden is the first to acknowledge.

Last semester, he earned a 4.0 GPA, and this semester his course load comprises Economics, English 12, German II, Zoology, and Probability and Statistics, which Chamberlain equates to a 100- or 200-level college class.

But Greg Oden was disappointed in his SAT score. He said he scored a 1,370 on the new three-part test, which has a maximum score of 2,400. His math and verbal components, those used by the NCAA to determine college eligibility, totaled 980.

That's 13 points above the average for Division I basketball players on scholarship last year, according to the NCAA, and more than double what he needed to be eligible. But it's slightly below last year's Indiana high school average of 1,012 and the national average of 1,028, and further below the 1,190 average of incoming Ohio State students.

"The way I look at it," said Lawrence North athletic director Grant Nesbit, "you see kids with a lot of athletic ability who are mediocre athletes because they don't work hard. Others have mediocre ability but work hard, so they're great athletes. And there are kids like Greg Oden, who have tremendous ability and work hard. I think he's middle of the road as far as academic ability, but he works really hard, so he gets good grades."

Chamberlain said that before she had Greg Oden in class, she'd heard he was a strong student."I was excited he was living up to his reputation," she said. "I was pleased because in class, he worked hard and still does."

Asked how he thought he'd do in college, Greg Oden seemed confident. "I'll be fine," he said.