COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Greg Oden’s much-anticipated college debut was a lot of fun—even if he didn’t get to show off one of his favorite skills.
“It felt really good. I had fun out there with my teammates,” Oden said after getting 14 points and 10 rebounds in No. 3 Ohio State’s 78-58 victory over Valparaiso on Saturday. “I didn’t get a chance to dunk. You could tell I was anxious. I traveled, like, eight times.”
Not really. In his first competition after sitting out seven months with a wrist injury, the 7-foot freshman, touted by some as the best U.S.-born big man in a generation, did not disappoint. He was welcomed with a standing ovation that was followed by an encore during the game.
Still, he never got to dunk.
“My brother was sitting behind the bench,” Oden said, a slight smile creasing his face. “He was telling me, ‘What’s going on? You haven’t dunked.”’
Oden, who said he was shopping at Target on Friday night when he got a text message telling him he could play, had not participated in summer ball or with the Buckeyes since undergoing surgery June 16 to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist.
“There were times when, I think both of us would agree, it’s been hard,” coach Thad Matta said. “He has a tremendous future in front of him, as does this team. To be honest, I was shocked with his conditioning today. I thought he’d get a little bit more tired, but it goes back to how much work he did to put him in position when this day came.”
Daequan Cook scored 20 points and Ron Lewis had 10 for Ohio State (7-1), coming off a 98-89 loss at No. 7 North Carolina on Wednesday night. Mike Conley Jr., Oden’s teammate at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, added seven points and seven assists.
Samuel Haanpaa had 18 points and Urule Igbavboa 10 for Valparaiso (3-4), which lost its fourth in a row. Brandon McPherson—yet another former high school teammate of Oden’s—had 11 points for the Crusaders.
Valparaiso pulled even at 18 on McPherson’s layup with just over 9 minutes left in the opening half but was outscored 15-4 before the break. Ohio State then opened the second half with a 14-0 run.
With 6 1/2 minutes left in a game that had long been decided, Oden leaped high to swat Moussa Mbaye’s shot back at him. When McPherson got the loose ball and drove the lane, Oden blocked that, too, prompting the crowd of 17,311 to shower him with a second standing ovation.
“He had a double-double and he only played 23 minutes,” Valparaiso coach Homer Drew said. “He’s fun to watch. As he gets back in a little more game-playing shape, you’re going to see some exciting things from him. We didn’t have anyone to contend with him on the inside.”
Oden had run, worked out and occasionally participated in drills with the Buckeyes but didn’t play in their first seven games. The target date for him to begin full practices was Jan. 1, but he healed quickly and passed a strength test given to him by team doctors on Friday. His surgeon in Indianapolis then cleared him to play.
Oden, a two-time national high school player of the year, said he had jitters for the previous 48 hours just knowing that he might finally be making his collegiate debut.
A roar went up at 16:37 of the opening half when Oden stood, stripped off his warmups and walked slowly to midcourt to check in. He was greeted by a standing ovation of almost 30 seconds.
“When Greg came in, the momentum changed,” Drew said. “The crowd got into it a little more and he made some blocks and we got a little hesitant on our inside play against him.”
Seconds later, Igbavboa put up a looping 12-footer. Oden jumped high—the ball barely going over the tips of his fingers before falling through the net. The crowd oohed at how high Oden jumped, at his mammoth wingspan and how close he came to blocking the shot.
Oden scored his first point at 12:56 of the opening half with a left-handed free throw. He wore an elastic brace on his right wrist and hand. He hit just 8-of-15 from the line and was 3-of-4 from the field. He also had five blocked shots in 23 minutes.
He said he wasn’t worried about re-injuring his wrist.
“My doctor told me specifically don’t dive for a loose ball, and if I do fall to put my hand up and bust my head,” he joked.
Oden was the nation’s top recruit and was widely perceived as the No. 1 player in the NBA draft—if the league hadn’t changed its rules to prevent high school graduates from immediately jumping to the pros.
Although he isn’t 100 percent, Oden said until he gets full mobility back in his right wrist he can still help the Buckeyes.
“All I have to do is rebound and block shots,” he said.