ATLANTA - So Ohio State's Greg Oden meets his match tonight? At the Final Four, the freshman runs into a Georgetown center who is a couple of inches taller, with a couple of seasons more experience - a guy who also has spent summers learning from legendary Hoyas centers of the past.
Seeing Oden match up with Georgetown's Roy Hibbert during the NCAA semifinals at the Georgia Dome, NBA scouts will be shining their lights, looking for Greg Oden's weaknesses?
"You don't want to kid yourself," an NBA Eastern Conference team official said yesterday, operating under the assumption that Oden will head for the NBA after this season. "Anyone who has first pick is just going to take Oden."
"The other kid" - this official was referring to national player of the year Kevin Durant from Texas - "is going to be an all-star. But you can't pass on a 7-footer like Oden. Everybody likes him. Everybody would take him."
The official can't say that on the record since NBA teams keep getting fined for talking about Oden and Durant - the price they pay for seeing top talents going to college for at least a year under the new NBA rules.
From a scout's perspective, the real interest tonight, this official said, will be the other way. For Roy Hibbert, Oden is a final exam of sorts after going against the Big East's best centers.
"How does Hibbert handle himself?" the official said. "At the beginning of the year, some people were saying he's maybe a late first-round guy. But every game he's gotten better. He's solidified himself as a definite first-round guy - maybe high teens [in the draft] or low 20s. But this game, with a good performance against the top center, this could really help the kid go higher."
The kid himself says he plans to return to Georgetown for his senior season. Right now, Hibbert has enough on his plate, he said, being part of a marquee matchup in this Final Four. Yesterday, he was backed against a wall outside Georgetown's locker room, facing the kind of media onslaught that has surrounded Oden all season. Hibbert obviously wasn't hard to spot.
"Maybe this is the year of the big guy," Hibbert said, willing to play along with one of the story lines of the day.
Unlike Memphis big man Joey Dorsey, who had suggested last week that Oden was "a lot overrated," before Oden scored more on Ohio State's first possession than Dorsey did all night, Hibbert expressed nothing but respect for Oden.
"He's just so young, and he's able to lead his team to the Final Four," Hibbert said of Oden. "When I was a freshman, I wouldn't have been able to do that."
"When he walked in the door as a freshman, [Hibbert was] someone we literally had to show how to run, how to catch," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said yesterday. "He is light years from where he was then. At the same time, four, five, 10 years from now, he'll be light years from where he is now."
Like Oden, Hibbert knew his path early.
"I mean, I was 6-8 in eighth grade," Hibbert said, up that wall, seemingly comfortable with the attention.
Before then, his parents had him playing some tennis.
"My serve was nice," he said, but chasing balls was more of a problem.
These days, Hibbert isn't the guy making the back cuts. But his passing ability blends in perfectly. Last week against North Carolina, he had four assists with just one turnover to go with his 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta remembers Hibbert well because he was terrific against the Buckeyes last season, scoring 20 points with 14 rebounds as Georgetown knocked favored Ohio State out of the NCAA tournament in the second round.
"He's really fine-tuned all of his skills," Matta said of Hibbert. "I think he understands the game even better."
For his part, Oden understands the challenge tonight, facing somebody a couple of inches taller.
"I'd rather play against somebody who's smaller than me," Oden joked, sitting in Ohio State's locker room.
Most of the 24 variations of Hibbert questions put to Oden yesterday were answered with his own variations of: "I'm just going to go out there and play hard."
Oden apparently isn't fond of podiums, so he sits in his seat taking on all questions for 30 minutes while Ohio State managers sit on each side of him, right under the armpits of the media throng. It was their job to try to give Oden a little space. One TV guy stood on a chair and yelled a question down to Oden. Some reporters gave up without ever catching sight of him.
"Is that Oden?" a reporter asked.
"I guess," another said.
Hiding out in a crowd. The Hoyas should be so lucky.
On College Basketball |Pivotal Matchup
Roy HibbertGreg Oden
7-2 HEIGHT 7-0
278 WEIGHT 280
Jr. CLASS Fr.
12.7 POINTS 15.4
6.9 REBOUNDS 9.5
2.48 BLOCKS 3.33
26.4 MINUTES 28.9
67 FG% 61.6
69.8 FT% 63.6
2 FOULED OUT 1
Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or email@example.com.