Circle City Classic: Oden Is The Teacher

INDIANAPOLIS – Greg Oden, the teacher, had a willing pupil in Brian Carlwell Saturday night. Oden was the winner in a lot of ways but a closer look reveals how both came out victorious.

What more can Greg Oden be asked to do? Block every shot? Dunk every attempt? Sign every autograph?

Next fall, the most dominant college basketball big man since (Alcindor?) will enroll at Ohio State. At that point, it'll be up to the every other team in college basketball to adjust. He's that good, that big and most certainly that talented.

Oden is the rare case study where every superlative you've read about him is true. The center has often criticized himself for not having enough offense. Frankly, he was right to be introspective about his game. That was an area he needed to beef up. Guess what? He did.

It sure would have been nice to see Alcindor in high school and he must have been a stud. But could he have been that much better than Oden is now? Santa, if you're listening, hook me up with one of those realistic throwback X-Box games, would you? It's time we found out whose king.

Against Proviso East, Oden went off. The big fella racked up 31 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks. To blab on about how superior he was to any on the court simply doesn't do him justice. He's on another level, the kind you build teams around in the NBA. Exactly the kind of guy general managers ink to serious contracts, for serious money with lots of zeroes. Oden won't need an agent to cut his deal because you don't lowball players of his stature.

On Saturday night, while Oden was, hmm, distinguishing himself against Proviso East, another player was putting in some work of his own.

To the casual observer or even the fan who reads the boxscore, Brian Carlwell's 9 points and 8 rebounds (we credited him with 11) will get dismissed as a nice effort against the Goliath in high school basketball.

In the big picture, this game against Oden was exponentially more valuable for Carlwell. Coming off a Friday game and an early morning drive, he wasn't exactly well rested for his challenge.

There was no way Proviso East could even think about taking him out of the game with Oden playing to his potential. A developing Carlwell had a choice to make: does he pack it in or pitch a tent inside against the super star?

Carlwell elected to make a stand and he was impressive in his own right. He battled through fatigue, not to mention the constant pressure of leaning against Oden. He gutted out an effort that speaks to how far he's come.

You get the sense that there are some out there that don't respect Carlwell as a prospect enough. Maybe to the first time observer it's hard to see the maturation of this young man in a singular performance. Fans aren't supposed to understand that Carlwell has gone from an introverted, unsure of himself post player to a guy who is capable of standing in the lane and blocking a shot by Oden.

Maybe folks don't see the passes out of the post or the improved intensity in how he runs the court. You can't evaluate Carlwell off one performance, the context wouldn't be right. To see him last May and compare him with where he is now would reveal dramatic improvements.

Carlwell told a pool of media that he wasn't very good against Oden. "I apologized to my team," Carlwell said. "I can't take a loss."

For 5 minutes after the game, Carlwell sat on his bench with his head hanging in his hands. What he should have been doing was proudly waltzing off the court with his held high. Too many guys wouldn't have withstood the onslaught he weathered.

"You have to be hard on yourself until I feel that I have to do everything right."

Props to Carlwell for striving to get better but life's too short not to celebrate victories along the way. The scoreboard registered a loss for the Pirates but believe me, this game, this experience was nothing but a win for a young big man who continues to advance his game.

You can get out your crystal balls and look into the future. There will be guys who make the McDonald's All-American game who will be wishing they had the type of collegiate career Carlwell is on track to ring up. That's big statement but it can be realized if Carlwell, who now has an obligation to himself to play with the same intensity each time, takes care of his business.

Maybe in a few years he'll be ready to admit how valuable this experience against the best player in America truly was to him. For 31 minutes he competed with Oden and lost the battle on points in a heavyweight bout.

Most guys get knocked out in the first five minutes.

Oden, Carlwell photo by Phil Schaefer

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