It was barely November. Greg Oden had begun practicing only minimally with Ohio State when a couple of various coaches and media types with access to the Ohio State practice noted the strength and force with which he dunked the ball with his left hand.
"I didn't know Greg was left-handed," said one observer, unknowing Oden's injured right wrist was his strong hand.
At least, so says the legend.
"He's not (left-handed)," responded Matta.
It would have been natural to assume as much in watching the 7-1, 280-pound center dunk the ball with his left hand and shoot free throws at a 50-70 percent clip. For anyone that had never actually seen Oden play, it was a forgiveable mistake.
That's probably about where the hype took over.
Oh, there's no forgetting the fact Oden is a two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year. There's no disputing he was considered the unanimous No. 1 player in the country heading into the college ranks out of Indianapolis Lawrence North High School.
There's a lot of misdirection, mostly honest mistakes, floating around cyberspace in the the college basketball community. Some of it originated by watching one or two high school games on television and making a rash judgment, the rest likely from folks that perhaps saw Oden a little more often at the high school or AAU level, but aren't delving deeper into the finer keys to successful basketball.
In just three collegiate games, Oden has scored nearly 15 points a game, grabbed almost eight rebounds a game and blocked nearly five shots a game. That's of course after practicing full-go for less than a couple of weeks following an eight-month layoff.
"When we got him this summer, he couldn't walk and chew gum," said Matta.
"That's a joke," he added.
Pundits and cynics will say Oden hasn't played anyone yet. Oddly enough, that's the same rationale people have used to minimize the hype when he, "played against 6-4 and 6-5 centers in high school."
What those same skeptics don't recall is that Oden played against 6-9 Kevin Love, 6-8 Derrick Caracter, 7-0 Tom Herzog, 6-9 Darrell Arthur, 6-10 Cole Aldrich, 6-9 Brian Carlwell and 6-9 Tyler Hansbrough among others and controlled, and in some cases, dominated every single one of them.
Let's breakdown some of the common arguments you hear about Oden with a good, old-fashioned game of fact or fiction.
Greg Oden Will Be One-And-Done
No one, including yours truly, would be silly enough to proclaim, "there's no way Oden goes pro after this season." That's crazy talk.
But some, including myself, are privvy to comments Oden has always made throughout the recruiting process, to close friends and also to Ohio State recruits recently, that suggest his stay in Columbus will not necessarily be terribly short-lived.
For instance, two years ago when word first leaked that Ohio State was recruiting Oden, people assumed it was a waste of time because he would go right to the NBA. That decision, of course, was taken out of Oden's hands, but the assumption was that he would have bolted if he had the opportunity. I had said back then that he was serious about college and planned to attend regardless of the NBA decision.
Interestingly enough, Matta addressed that this past Saturday after the Cincinnati game.
"People say he would have gone to the NBA had they not changed the rule, but Greg, I think, was going to go to college (anyway)," he said. "He told us that all along."
It's for that same reasoning, that I would expect Oden to stick around an extra year (or two). He's reportedly enjoying his college life and he wants to win a National Championship. He's also the type of kid that's humble enough to stay as if to boast, "I told you so."
On the flipside, Oden said Monday there's a, "good chance," he stays four years at Ohio State. That's probably not likely in the end. And also, he had said all along he would not leave until he felt he was ready. Reportedly, he went to the USA Basketball practices this summer and for the first time, walked away feeling he could compete with those players.
Further, he's recently said there was a time when staying could be stupid, depending on what he's passing up. But your stupid, my stupid and his stupid might not be one in the same.
Outside of Columbus, everyone assumes Oden will be one-and-done. I say that's fiction (but reserve the right to remind people nothing is concrete). After all, no real decision will be made until after the season.
But Isn't It True His Mother Was Upset At The NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement?
It's certainly true that Zoe Oden was upset with the NBA. Her feelings on the matter was that if her son, his coaches and all the people that matter to Greg, sat down and decided the NBA would have been the best decision for her son, then he should have the right to make that choice.
All along, Ms. Oden wanted her son to go to college and get an education. Maybe at the end of the day, Oden could not have turned down millions of dollars and would have opted for the NBA route right out of high school. That's the same reason as to why he may never end up staying at Ohio State four years as he's now saying he might.
Be careful to assume one means the other. Wanting the right to do something doesn't guarantee your decision to take it. Some people may support abortion but would never get one. Other people fight for gun ownernship rights but never own one. Wanting the right to decide does not mean there's no choice to be made.
Oden Is "Raw" Offensively
Fact (with a footnote).
Considering the names Shaquille O'Neal, Ralph Sampson, Bill Russell, Lew Alcindor and Patrick Ewing get thrown around at will when comparing Oden, calling him raw offensively might be an appropriate comment to make. However, if your litmus test is the common high school to college big man, he's well ahead of the game.
It's true that Oden does not yet have a wide variety of post moves. It's also true that his shooting range only extends to about 10 feet with any regularity. But does anyone typically want their centers taking a lot of shots beyond 10 feet?
When Oden does eventually regain full use of his right hand, you will see him shoot a lot of baby hooks with his right hand. He won't be afraid to step out on the baseline and take a jump shot. Most importantly, his long reach and aggressive mentality makes it easy for him to dunk on people despite being 5-8 feet from the basket.
Oden will continue to develop a wider variety of go-to moves in the post. Tearing the tendons in his wrist could end up being a blessing in desguise for Oden's future because he's become effective with his left hand.
For now, he's "raw" from the standpoint he doesn't have a ton of post moves. But if you stack him up against most of the college-bound centers in the past 10-20 years, you'll find he's better than most of them on the offensive end.
Oden Is Only Effective If He Catches The Ball Within Five Feet
The additional caveat with this statement along with his being "raw" on the offensive end is that he can only score if he gets the ball within five feet of the basket. That misnomer in mind, the prevailing thought is that if you keep Oden eight feet away from the hoop, you can shut him down.
Easier said than done.
The thing that makes Oden so good on the offensive end is that you really can't keep him away from the basket. He positions himself as good as any center in basketball right now.
Oden has the footwork that makes coaches drool, including a killer drop-step. What's worse than the fact he can position himself on the block so effectively is that his length, quickness and athleticism make it easy for him to get on a defender's hip and dunk the ball. Even if you keep him in front, you have to stop his 7-6 wingspan from making a hook shot - which can't be done.
His mere presence inside makes it a nightmare for opposing coaches.
"You have to respect him inside," said Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, "which will free up their shooters."
To sum the entire argument, whether or not Oden is the greatest thing since sliced bread is yet to be determined. Some day many decades from now, multiple NBA Championships and NBA All-Star appearances later, Oden might bring closure to any of the current doubts about his ability. Until that time, people can only differentiate fact from fiction based on what we already know and what we've already seen.
Just how good can Oden be? Is he already the best player in college basketball? Will he lead Ohio State to a National Championship in his tenure at Ohio State whether it's for one year, two years or even four years? These are questions that won't immediately be answered.
Just like the guy that didn't know Oden was left-handed. He's not and now the guy knows differently.
It's just taking everyone a little more time to learn about Oden.