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What happened to Greg Oden? Former Ohio State star now works at Butler after NBA career

By David Suggs,


He was lithe, leaping through the air with the sort of youthful exuberance one would expect of a person half his age. He had this sense of wonderment in his eyes, a look of unbridled joy as ball landed in hand.

It's an image that lives on in the minds of college basketball fans of a certain generation: Ohio State freshman Greg Oden scarfing up a rebound, one hand free, the other engulfed in a web of black medical tape.

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Oden's outstretched board took the nation by storm — much of it due to 2K Sports' insistence on making it the lead image of its college basketball video game "College Hoops 2K8."

Oden was a campus superstar in Columbus, a quick leaper with a drop step that left defenders in its wake. His talent was prodigious, so much so that he was taken No. 1 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. The No. 2 pick that year? Future NBA MVP Kevin Durant.

Oden's career came to an unceremonious end, halted by a steady stream of injuries. Many — unjustly — labeled Oden the biggest draft bust in league history. His name became synonymous with Blazers misfortune — perched right between the LaRue Martin and Sam Bowie selections and Brandon Roy's degenerative knees.

Oden's NBA career came to a premature close. But his involvement in the sport didn't end when he unlaced his sneakers.

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Here's the skinny on the rise, fall and rebirth of Greg Oden, who is making waves on Butler's coaching staff after some time away from the game.

What happened to Greg Oden?

Oden's playing career can be condensed into one simple term: injury-prone. That's probably a misrepresentation of Oden's physical health; prior to his time in the league, there was no reason to believe that Oden — a spindly, yet strong, 7-footer — would find himself on the sidelines as much as he did as a pro.

The Indianapolis native wasn't just good; he was great. Starring on the same AAU team as future NBA players Josh McRoberts, Mike Conley, Daquan Cook and Eric Gordon, Oden was the sort of tantalizing prospect general managers dream of. He had the strength. He had the footwork. He had an airy touch around the basket and the sort of fluid movement that seemed to make him a lock for All-Star games in his future.

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Oden was hampered by a right wrist injury for his entire freshman season at Ohio State. He still averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds and more than three blocks a game.

This is what ESPN's Fran Fraschilla had to say about Oden as he was coming out of high school:

Honestly, it's fun to watch a Greg Oden or LeBron James play with his high school teammates before heading to college or the NBA. It's an "I was there at the beginning" feeling, sort of like watching Mickey Mantle when he was a Yankees minor leaguer in Joplin, Mo."

Things didn't quite work out that way for Oden, who was unable to overcome a seemingly unending string of injuries. He played in just 105 regular-season NBA games and failed to find a rhythm amid all the stops and starts. By 2014, he was out of the league.

Oden made peace with his early retirement and returned to Columbus as a student manager while working to get his bachelor's degree in sport industry. After graduating, Oden joined Edyoucore Sports & Entertainment, an organization offering financial literacy training to those involved in the sports world. Oden served as the company's athlete adviser.

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He returned to the college game in 2022, reuniting with former Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta at Butler. His title is director of basketball operations.

Oden has become a pivotal part of Matta's staff, offering advice and insight to the Bulldogs' big men.

"Just being able to pick his brain, asking him how it was going against other guys, bigger guys, being able to ask him those questions, is great," center Jalen Thomas told The Ringer . “[He's] definitely a big part of why I came."

The up-and-coming coach isn't averse to chopping it up in the film room. And that's not to mention Oden's skills on the court — that silky footwork, that sumptuous touch, that overwhelming power. Sometimes, Oden matches up against his players. It tends to only go one way.

"It's just really fun to see that [competitiveness] come out,” Butler student manager Tommy Niederpruem said.

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Oden is back in the spotlight, not just on the court, but also on screen. He starred in this AT&T ad alongside fellow collegiate icons Christian Laettner, Adam Morrison, Sabrina Ionescu, A'ja Wilson and Steven Adams.

Greg Oden college stats

Oden played just one year of college ball, but he made it count, earning consensus second-team All-America honors while leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game.

2006-07 32 28.9 15.7 9.6 0.7 0.6 3.3

Greg Oden NBA Draft

It's hard to overstate just how highly touted Oden was as a prospect. He was regarded as a foundational piece of any roster, the perfect blend of grace and power.

Here's what ESPN's Jay Bilas said (per The Oklahoman ):

Kevin Durant is going to be an All-Star, but getting a dominant center is difficult to do in the NBA. Greg Oden is going to be that. I think it’s easier to build around a dominant center than a great scorer. I tend to think it will be easier to hang (championship) banners with Greg Oden than Kevin Durant.

Draft Express' Mike Schmidt had a similar outlook in a 2007 scouting report :

Evaluating Oden up close and in person is quite the special experience. His size and physique leaves one a bit awestruck, and that is before he shakes your hand. Looking at the way a player like Dwight Howard has improved his physique in the last two years, Oden's potential impact on the game due to his physical and athletic gifts alone is out of this world.

And here's how Draft Express characterized him after his 25-point, 12-rebound performance in the Buckeyes' national championship game loss to Florida:

He converted several moves on the low block that can only be described as professional caliber, while the ease with which he brushed formidable post defender Al Horford aside bordered on scary. If he wasn't able to simply bull his way to the basket for a layup or dunk, he used deft footwork and a touch looking softer by the shot to dominate the game offensively.

It was no surprise why Oden became the fifth center in seven years to be selected first overall.

Greg Oden injuries

For all his talent, Oden couldn't escape injuries. He suffered a wrist ligament tear prior to college, an ailment that caused him great discomfort throughout his freshman year.

But it was lower-body injuries that scuppered his NBA career. He went under the knife numerous times. He missed the 2007-08 season after microfracture surgery on his right knee. He suffered a gruesome left patellar fracture just as he began to find his footing, which kept him out for the remainder of the 2009-10 season. The very next year, he was sidelined with another microfracture operation, this time on his left knee.

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In 2012, Oden underwent two more operations: first an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee and then an invasive procedure on his left knee. The incision for the left knee surgery revealed more cartilage damage than was initially believed, at which point he underwent his third microfracture repair.

All of this took a toll on Oden. He couldn't find an NBA team to stick with after seeing his contract run out with the Heat. After a brief basketball odyssey in China, Oden stepped away from the game, although he did compete in the 2018 iteration of The Basketball Tournament, reuniting with other Buckeyes alums.

Greg Oden career earnings

Although his time in the NBA was brief, Oden made himself a bag. Per Spotrac, Oden reeled in $24,066,185 over the course of his six-year career. Most of that money came from his rookie deal — Oden netted a little over $2 million in his final two seasons in the league.

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