Greg Oden - A Shot At History

Greg Oden grabs his red workout jersey and wipes sweat from the beard he's been letting grow. He's been shooting free throws, one after another, his teammates having already finished practice. He's not allowed to call it a night until he hits 80 percent from the line.

He's worn out as he leaves the court, but his words point to a singular goal: winning a third consecutive state title. Only twice before in the 95-year history of Indiana high school basketball has it happened.

"Right now, I'm just focusing on team ball," said the Lawrence North center, whose Wildcats open the season Wednesday at Conseco Fieldhouse against Lawrence Central. "Trying to hustle, play defense, trying to get a good team going."

Elsewhere in the country, there are bigger conversations about Greg Oden. Many who have followed the sport for decades say there is something special going on in Indianapolis , that the 17-year-old 7-footer might be developing into one of the great true centers of all time. Some already compare Greg Oden favorably to the high school versions of legends like Chamberlain, Alcindor and Walton, and those who don't place him quite on that peak believe he could reach it this season if his improvement continues apace.

"He's the Bill Russell of this era, and he's further along as a shot blocker and rebounder," said Bob Gibbons, who has scouted high school players for more than three decades and has seen all the best centers live or on tape since Lew Alcindor in the early 1960s. "He's making vast progress with his offensive game.

"He doesn't have the jump hook of Lew Alcindor or (Bill) Walton's face-the-basket shooting skills or range. But I think he is the best high school big man I've seen since Lew Alcindor was at ( New York City 's) Power Memorial. As long as he continues to develop his offensive skills, that's going to put him in the class of Wilt Chamberlain as a player that can dominate on both ends."

Gibbons has plenty of company in his thinking. Comparisons to Alcindor began after Greg Oden 's sophomore year, two years after he was projected as a No. 1 NBA draft pick. Since then, scores of articles have used Alcindor, Shaquille O'Neal or Ralph Sampson as reference points.

Dick Weiss, a longtime college basketball writer in New York and Philadelphia , said Greg Oden isn't quite at the level of Alcindor, Walton or Chamberlain, but that he's better than Sampson and Patrick Ewing at the same stage. College basketball analyst Dick Vitale noted how Alcindor and Chamberlain were extremely skilled at both ends of the court in high school and said "this kid has that kind of potential."

"He has the great attitude and mental framework that's vital to getting better and better," Vitale said. "It seems no contest he'll be a superstar."

Greg Oden 's statistics aren't what set him apart. He averaged 20 points and 9.6 rebounds as a junior. Great, but not in the same league as some of the former stars, like the 29 points and 25 rebounds Walton averaged as a high school senior. (Not to mention the 90 points Chamberlain scored in a single game . . . in 28 minutes.)

What distinguishes Greg Oden, experts say, is the combination of talent, instincts and maturity; the competition he has proved himself against; and the way he takes over a game when necessary.

As with the others, high school competition has posed few challenges for Greg Oden. But during the summer he has faced every notable big man on a national circuit that's far beyond the scale of what existed during his predecessors' time, and he's dominated there, too.

His offense is just beginning to emerge with a jump shot and short hook. He can post up and score inside almost at will. He can block shots, intimidate and rebound. He's been 7 feet for nearly two years and has worked past the awkwardness of rapid growth. He's a solid 255 pounds, heavier than many current NBA centers. And he doesn't turn 18 for nearly two months.

"The thing about Greg Oden is . . . it's never about numbers. It's all about being the best player," said Van Coleman, who has been scouting high school players full time since 1978. "I think his numbers will be dictated by what the coach wants, but he's capable of averaging 30 (points) and 15 (rebounds). It could be a really exciting year for him. Enjoy him, because you're not going to see many of those."

Get all the facts about football star Brady Quinn. You can check out