Notes And Quotes From Portland

Some quick thoughts from my first few hours in the Pacific Northwest.

When it was announced that Ohio State would be playing its first NCAA Tournament game in Portland, Ore., against Virginia Commonwealth fans and program officials were likely disappointed in the cross-country trip the team would be making. I know the individuals responsible for financing the trips of media members like me weren’t enthused.

I, however, was pretty pumped. Prior to my arrival this afternoon (morning? Evening? I’m a little jet-lagged) I had never been to the state of Oregon or anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. I had heard a lot about Portland, obviously, and the city immediately lived up to expectations as food trucks were present in the airport, picturesque foothills full of pine trees were constantly in view and beards were everywhere. My rental car, fittingly, is a Prius.

So while I am excited to be here, there is also work to be done. Here are some interesting notes and quotes from my first few hours in Portland.

  • Smart Not Dumb On Ohio: VCU head coach Shaka Smart knows a thing or two about the state of Ohio. He played at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, about an hour northeast of Columbus.

    “I spent nine years of my life in Ohio,” Smart said. “I've been someone that's been familiar with or followed their program for a long, long time, going back to Jimmy Jackson and those great teams.

    “While I was (at Kenyon College) I would read the Columbus Dispatch every day. I remember reading about Michael Redd, Scoonie Penn, the great teams that those guys had. We were like 45, 50 minutes away. But in terms of basketball, we were a world away because that was Big Ten basketball and I was playing Division III. I followed their team really closely, looked up to those guys because they were terrific players.”

  • Big School Rules: While Ohio State is the underdog when it comes to seed – something that Thad Matta said he was talking to his team about – it’s tough for a school like OSU to truly be considered underdogs. The Buckeyes are the odds-on favorite to win tomorrow and have been picked by many pundits to bounce the Rams from the tournament. Their players have noticed.

    “That's the first time we heard that they were going to be the underdogs in this matchup,” junior Melvin Johnson said when asked about the dynamic. “Like I said since the seeding came out, we've been watching prediction after prediction, expert after expert saying they got this one. They got a top three pick, he's mainly going to be the engine that makes them go.

    “This is the first time we heard about them being the underdog. We always have a chip on our shoulder, find something to motivate us. We don't know whether we're going to take the underdog approach or whether they do, we don't really care.”

  • Portland, round two: This marks the second-ever trip to Portland for Matta. He was last here when recruiting Kevin Love to be a Buckeye, he said, which obviously didn’t work out as the current Cleveland Cavalier played collegiately at UCLA.

    “It’s one of those you get out there and the coach goes, ‘He really wants to stay on the West Coast,’” Matta said. “And I’m like, ‘Could you have told me that before I came?’ That was the only time I’ve been out there.”

  • All-Good With Oden: With the Buckeyes playing in the home of the Portland Trail Blazers tomorrow, the topic turned to Greg Oden, the former Ohio State center and first overall pick by the Blazers in the 2007 draft. Oden’s promising career was cut short by injury before it really got started and he has been working to rebuild himself in Columbus.

    “He's doing great,” Matta said. “It's funny, I see Greg every day. He's back in Columbus. Comes in, works out. I don't know quite honestly if I've ever seen Greg as happy as he is right now in terms of everything is going great in his life. He's made a lot of personal commitments to change. Having him around literally every single day and spending time with him, there's no greater feeling. I'm excited for him.”

    Matta said that Oden has been doing high-level conditioning for the last six month, but he wasn’t sure if the center would make another attempt to play professionally.

Those are some quick notes and quotes from my first few hours in Portland, be sure to check back for more in advance of tomorrow’s 4:40 p.m. ET tip. Maybe my body clock will have adjusted by then.

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