Joining Greg Oden's Circus

The Greg Oden Circus was at Southport on Saturday, and ring master Grant Nesbit was performing a balancing act behind the scenes.

Greg Oden, the best high school player on the planet, was walking off the court following Lawrence North's 72-59 win over Illinois ' Proviso East in Saturday's Challenge of Champions when a 9-year-old boy ran across the floor to track him down.

The boy handed Greg Oden a pen and one of his sneakers, and Greg Oden scribbled his name on the toe of the red-and-white high top.

Then, as Greg Oden, exhausted from his 31-point, 16-rebound performance, turned away and began to make his way toward the door, a sea of fans flooded the court and surrounded the 7-footer.

So Greg Oden turned back, shook a dozen outstretched hands, posed for a couple photographs and signed a few more autographs.

Then Nesbit grabbed Greg Oden's left arm and pulled him off the court and out the door.

"If I didn't pull him away," Nesbit said, "he'd stay out there all night."

Nesbit, a Greenfield-Central grad, is Lawrence North's athletic director - at least that's his official title.

"In a lot of cases," Nesbit said, "I guess I'm Greg Oden's press agent."

From OK'ing interview requests to scheduling TV appearances, Nesbit is responsible for all things Greg Oden.

"All of that comes through me," Nesbit said. "When he was going through the recruiting process, that came through both myself and the coach, and all the media stuff comes through me, and I have to decide whether he can do it or not."

Two weeks ago, Nesbit set up Greg Oden's appearance on the Bill Polian Show. He also worked with promoters to put together Lawrence North's game against Dayton ( Ohio ) Dunbar , which was played at Hinkle Fieldhouse and televised on ESPN2.

Everybody wants a piece of Greg Oden and the Wildcats, the two-time defending state champions.

"When we go on road trips, we contact the team we're playing and ask them for a locker room where we have a back way out, because it's not unusual to have 50 to 100 people waiting outside the locker room to get things signed," said Nesbit, a former wrestling coach and assistant AD at Greenfield-Central. "A lot of times I help Greg get off the court. I just hook him around the waist and just kind of pull him out."

Greg Oden was in eighth grade when Nesbit heard about him.

"I heard about these kids going undefeated in eighth grade and having dunk contests during their middle school pep sessions," Nesbit said. "You don't hear about many intersquad dunk contests in middle school."

With Greg Oden on the LN squad as a freshman, the Wildcats went 21-3. The next year they went 29-2 won the Class 4A state title.

And that's when Greg Oden's popularity exploded.

"We knew it was going to be big, but we didn't know it was going to be this big," Nesbit said. "After Greg Oden's sophomore year, I called LeBron James' old AD for some advice. We formed a relationship, and he had some good advice to pass along."

When Greg Oden was being recruited - by every major college basketball program in the country - Nesbit and LN coach Jack Keefer would have to wade through hundreds of letters and phone calls.

"When the recruiting was going on, we were getting a lot of calls, and those were from a who's who of college coaches," Nesbit said. "Every major program came for a visit within a two-week period."

Greg Oden recently committed to Ohio State , and the correspondence has subsided, but there still a lot of demands on Greg Oden's time.

"I do a lot of interviews," Greg Oden said, "but Mr. Nesbit said, 'You don't know how many interviews I have to turn down just so you can go to school.'"

Greg Oden is Nesbit's athletic office assistant, and the two spend time together every day.

"I'm just in his office with him, watching TV," Greg Oden said. "He's a good guy, and him and Coach look out for me. It's good to have coaches and an athletic director that do that."

Greg Oden may be Nesbit's "biggest" responsibility, but he's certainly not his only one.

"My wrestling coach asked me how many hours I spent at school last week, and I said it was probably about 90," Nesbit said. "We've got 53 other teams outside of the boys' basketball team, and there are another 1,000 athletes that I'm responsible for."

LN has won seven state championships under Nesbit's direction, and Greg Oden's likely to deliver another one before moving on to Columbus.

And when Greg Oden does graduate, Nesbit will be sad to see him go, and not just because of everything he does on the basketball court.

"I think the teachers will tell you that he's one of their favorite students, regardless of his success on the court," Nesbit said. "He's just a tremendously nice young man, and it's been a lot of fun having him around. Obviously we'll miss his presence on the court, but we'll miss him as a student as well."