The 2007 NBA Draft
As was expected, the Portland Trailblazers used the top pick of the 2007 Draft to choose the top player in the NCAA, Greg Oden. Most prognosticators also picked his middle school, high school, and college teammate, Mike Conley Jr. to go fourth; and the Memphis Grizzlies did not disappoint them on that.
The real surprise came when another Indianapolis area player Josh McRoberts was chosen later than expected. McRoberts, who played his HS career at Carmel High School and college at Duke, was expected to be a first rounder. But with the disappointment also comes some solace that he will be playing with Oden at Portland, who amazingly found him still available when they exercised their second pick (37th overall).
I don't know nearly as much about McRoberts, as I do Oden and Conley. I watched them from their HS freshman years on. I saw this tall, skinny, awkward 15 year-old kid swat down shots, rebound, and score. I watched this fast slashing point guard, both score and get the ball to whoever was in the best position to score (and that meant Oden much of the time). I watched the awkward fly-swatter bulk up and turn into a very strong inside post player (on both ends of the court). I watched Conley refine his abilities. He has evolved into into one of the premier point guards, in the NCAA. In fact, throughout this whole time I have seen the both of them play, I have maintained that Conley is every bit as good at his position, as Greg is at his. And that's not too shabby.
In their freshman year, they were probably the second best team in the state of Indiana. That year, another Indy team had a well-balanced attack with a more mature and experienced basketball team, Pike High. But after getting eliminated early in the tournament by them, Oden and Conley's LN Wildcats won the next three state championships without much trouble at all.
By all rights, it was practically a cakewalk. The unique thing about it all was, it wasn't all a two-man show. They had some great role players on those teams and all of them functioned well in their positions. They kind of reminded me of those dominant Jordan-led Chicago Bull teams in the 90s. The two stars were usually consistent with outstanding play from the role players. But the best thing about that team was the fact that the stars made everyone else on the team, better. When someone had an off night, someone else stepped up. There was no selfishness, just a desire to win.
Like Jordan and Pippen, both Oden and Conley make others on their teams better; and there is a great chance that will continue, in their new homes.
The thing I see that is so special about Oden is, he is a very grounded young man. His mother, Zoe, is primarily responsible for that. This kid made good grades, never got into trouble, and was a humble young man that understood the team concept. And to be quite honest about it, nothing has really changed from those days.
Conley was/is no slouch, either. His father was a star athlete in his own right, winning the Silver Medal in LA (84) and the Gold in Barcelona (92), both in the triple jump. Both Portland and Memphis will not be disappointed in their selections (both on the court and off), I'll bet on it. Both will most likely be model citizens and will not disappoint fans that shell out their hard earned bucks, for a few hours of sports entertainment.
So to both teams and their fans, I say look forward to some good basketball from some quality young men. Take care of them and support them, if you are an NBA fan.
Because you could be in my position. I have two teams that do not give a damn about winning, at least not that I can tell.
The Lakers are held hostage to Kobe and his quest for stats (and yet, little else). And the Pacers still have lousy management in the form of Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh, which is obvious from their horrible basketball business decisions. These are the same decisions that left them without a draft pick in what many termed, one of the best NBA drafts in history. It's a damned shame that they couldn't/wouldn't work a deal to get one of these men, to include McRoberts. (Or any other outstanding ball player, from anywhere.)
Laker fans are pretty much relegated to watching Kobe night after night get hot and dominate some games, but not win titles. There's no one else to turn to, when he has an off night. Not much chance of any real change after the Lakers' draft night, either. But the real embarassment is Bird Inc. The Pacers traded someone (as yet unnamed) for a #39 pick from Miami (MsM tell anyone you may run into that is connected with the team, thanks be from me, will you?).
They lost their pick because of a trade they made to get Al Harrington back from Atlanta, because he said wanted to win. He said he'd be willing to blend in wherever in the rotation, just to be able to win. No sooner than he got here, he started complaining about minutes. So, they ended up trading him and Stephen Jackson to Golden State, and the Pacers are still weak.
(Not just the guys I mention here, but) I hope this entire class of NBA draftees does well. I also hope this will be a new generation that will change the culture of the league (back to one of competition, with sportsmanship and class). I'd like to see it get back to like it was when guys like Russell, Bradley, and West (and even Bird, Magic, and Dr J) played the game. It was a real treat, then.