Still a rookie, Oden joins first-year players for NBA orientation

RYE BROOK, N.Y. — He was drafted more than 14 months ago, and even then he looked too old to be a first-year player, so it's easy to forget that Greg Oden is technically a rookie.

Sidelined all season after knee surgery, the top pick in the 2007 draft never got to compete with No. 2 selection Kevin Durant for the Rookie of the Year award. So he's eligible to win it this year, and that's one of his goals.

"I hope so," Oden said Thursday. "I'm working for it."

The Portland center definitely feels like a newcomer this week, joining a number of first-year players in the league's rookie transition program, a four-day event where players are counseled on issues they will face on and off the court.

Players are given three years to complete the program, in case they are unavailable in the summer before they enter the NBA. Oden couldn't come last year because it started just days after he had microfracture surgery on his right knee.

He finally began taking part in 5-on-5 drills last week, playing twice with his Trail Blazers teammates, and seemed pleased with his progress.

"When I first came back to Portland, I came back about three weeks ago, and I was a little bit nervous getting in there and starting working out with the guys," Oden said. "I was nervous about how I was going to play, but the more I got to playing, it's just about going out there and playing the game I love, so it's not really anything to be nervous about."

For now, he doesn't think the Blazers will let him do too much more.

"I don't think they're going to do that until the season starts," he said. "They're trying to make sure nothing happens, so keeping me on a tight rope right now."

Oden has already experienced plenty in the NBA, traveling with the Blazers on three long road trips last season. He said he's learned much more in the transition program, such as the services provided by the players' association and some financial lessons.

"I really don't know everything that went on, so I got to see some things," Oden said. "I know a couple of things that go on, but to really hear about it and all the situations while being here is good for me."

Oden and the rest of the participants saw a quick lesson in NBA discipline Wednesday when former Kansas stars Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur were sent home on the first day of the program for violating unspecified league rules.

Mike Bantom, the NBA's senior vice president of player development, said young players are going to make mistakes, which is why there is such a focus on finances. Even a first-round pick like Oden is only guaranteed a two-year contract at the start of his career, so players are cautioned not to blow it all too quickly.

"Be accountable for your own finances, don't rely on an agent or any one person to manage your money, because ultimately it's going to be your responsibility," Bantom said. "It's going to be your issue and you can't say, 'Well, I left it up to him.'"

Players also got a lecture Thursday from former Cavaliers and Hornets coach Paul Silas, who while reminding them of the challenges rookies face pointed out that he didn't even start Baron Davis, then a No. 3 overall pick, in Charlotte because he didn't think the point guard came into the league with a good enough shot.

Oden, growing out his beard and looking far older than his 20 years, is already aware there are no guarantees. Still, he won't have to worry about playing time once he's fully recovered.

"It took a couple of days, but it felt good," he said of facing live competition again. "The second day it felt a lot better, but I'm still not quite back yet."

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