SAN ANTONIO – The email showed up on everyone’s Blackberry, and as each member of the Ohio State coaching staff opened the missive from their sports information director they couldn’t believe what they were reading, let alone their good fortune.
Memphis center Joey Dorsey had on Friday unleashed a press conference trash talk session on Buckeyes big man Greg Oden, the ultimate pregame cage rattle that ended any concerns that the occasionally sleepy 7-foot freshman might not be awake for the Elite Eight.
Dorsey had called Oden “overrated.” He said Oden had to work on his offensive game. He promised he’d get “20 rebounds.” In the end he described their expected battle as David and Goliath, before adding, “I’m Goliath.”
Apparently Dorsey didn’t know how that story turned out.
Buckeyes 92, Tigers 76 and on to the Final Four for Ohio State and its man-child in the middle, the one who looks middle aged but often acts middle school.
The two players’ stat lines were as expected: Oden going for 17 points, nine rebounds and a defensive performance that changed everything Memphis thought it might be able to do.
Dorsey? The poor guy ended with no points, four rebounds and a rock between the eyes.
“We had a couple of guys that didn’t give us what they normally do,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “Nothing. You get a zero out of some guys. … zeroes across the board.”
Not that Dorsey was that much of a motivation. When assistant coach Dan Peters told Oden what Dorsey had said the big guy hardly blinked.
“With Greg, you can’t see it, but you know it is sinking in,” assistant Brandon Miller said. “Greg is a smart guy. He knows it is not a one-on-one game. He’ll get his in the (flow) of the game.”
Oden was actually more inspired watching a television show Saturday detailing the “Top 50 dunks of all-time.” He made a point to really slam a couple home in a concerted effort to shatter the backboard.
“I’ve never had the honor to do that,” he said. “I tried really hard. These new age rims don’t break like 20 years ago …”
The 19-year-old paused for comedic timing.
“When I was dunking.”
There is no easy way to describe Oden. He is about the biggest person you will ever meet. His facial features make him look about 40 years old. He doesn’t smile that much, rarely gets excited about anything and speaks in a monotone. He produces all sorts of moments of unintended comedy – like when he clipped the Final Four net by climbing just a single step up the ladder.
But he is anything but sullen or aloof. He is the definition of a “kid.” While he didn’t seem overly excited about the Final Four, his postgame comments were a stand up comedy routine sprinkled with all sorts of space shot observations.
“My favorite color used to be green, until I realized everything I wore was red. So then I thought, ‘maybe red should be my favorite color?’”
He loves toying with everyone about how he might actually return to Columbus for his sophomore season. That’s a Powerball level long shot considering he’ll be the top pick in the draft. He already has his agent all but picked out – Mike Conley Sr., his old AAU coach and the dad of teammate Mike Conley Jr., who along with fellow freshman Daequan Cook will probably join him in June’s first round.
Oden, though, was even trying to pass off his interest in next semester’s class load – a three-course effort that includes “history, biology and math.”
What kind of math, he was asked. He wasn’t sure. A team manager said it was pre-Calculus. Oden grimaced like he was chewing on a brussel sprout. “For real?”
Pre-Calc might have to go on without him.
What kind of history? “Just history,” he said. Everyone laughed. He did too. “Man, I’m on spring break. I’m not worrying about my classes.”
He shouldn’t worry about anything at this point. Everyone else should worry about him. He is far and away the most dominant player left in this tournament, an X-factor that no other team has or can account for.
While Ohio State isn’t 34-3 just because of Oden – it was Conley who was named the region’s most outstanding player – he is the key to everything from here on out.
Saturday he impacted all 40 minutes of the game even though due to foul trouble he only played 24 of them. When he sat on the bench for over nine minutes in the first half, Memphis knew it needed to take advantage of it and when the Tigers didn’t do enough, didn’t build a huge lead, it was a major lift for the Buckeyes.
Down the stretch his sheer presence in the middle prevented Memphis from slashing to the hole and took them out of their offense. Ohio State went from down five to a double-digit win as the Tigers were forced to shoot threes.
“The way Memphis plays, with the driving, I think this would probably be (Oden’s) No. 1 (performance) on the impact meter,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I thought his rebounding, his challenging shots, finishing at the other end was tremendous.”
Maybe Oden’s greatest accomplishment, though, was leaving Calipari and Dorsey – the Tigers' twin talkers – almost speechless.
“He made a couple of shots,” said Cal, shaking his head in disbelief, “there’s nothing you can say.”
As for Joey Goliath, what could he say?
“We gave each other a hug and a five and I told him I wished him well,” Dorsey said.
The 7-foot “David” said he really appreciated that. Of course, he also looked ready to daydream about getting a new favorite color.
- Greg Oden