Oden young, talented and a beast

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

The wait is over for Greg Oden as the NBA awaits the regular-season debut of basketball's latest man-child.

Had the league not imposed an age limit, Oden would be starting at centre for the Raptors and not Jermaine O'Neal.

Had Oden not been forced to attend one year of college, no one in this market would be debating the merits of Andrea Bargnani.

There's no use in rehashing hoops history, but Oden nonetheless looms as one of the most intriguing players on a Portland team loaded with young and explosive talent.

In an era where back-to-the-basket centres slowly are becoming extinct, Oden is the exception, an exceptional talent whose rookie year was derailed by knee surgery, a micro-fracture procedure that has cut short careers and in some cases extended them to various degrees of success.

Ex-Raptors guard Alvin (Boogie) Williams is among the first players to undergo the revolutionary surgery, but the impact was minimal.

Amare Stoudemire also had it, but it's too early to tell what long-term effects the Suns' power forward will experience as his career moves forward.

Oden emerged as the top overall pick last season at a time when many questioned his age, much like many wondered aloud about LeBron James.

In his long-awaited debut, albeit in pre-season play, Oden showed the promise predicted of him when he left Ohio State after his freshman season.

He was dunking the basketball, rejecting shots and imposing his will on a stage he seems destined to dominate.

Once Shaquille O'Neal calls it a career, which will arrive in two years when the Big Aristotle's contract expires, you can count on one hand the number of true centres in the league, post players who can back a defender down and basically dunk at will.

Dwight Howard will have company when it comes to young and powerful centres once Oden truly finds his legs and his game.

Andrew Bynum, another young post player coming off surgery, will be a presence with the Lakers, but the league has seen glimpses of Bynum's potential.

There hadn't been any game sightings of Oden until the Trail Blazers played Sacramento earlier this week.

"It felt good to be out there playing against someone who is not on our team," Oden said.

The Rose Garden faithful rose as one as Oden departed the court after 20 minutes, a stretch that saw the seven-footer score 13 points, haul down five rebounds and record two blocks.

Of Oden's five baskets, four were dunks.

"It was all right," Oden said of his play. "But there's always room for improvement.

"I know I'm not in the best shape of my life and all I can do is work through that."

Had he stayed healthy last year, Oden would have competed with Seattle's Kevin Durant for rookie honours.

If Oden stays healthy this season, he's a slam dunk to cop the award.

"I think he is going to be rookie of the year," teammate LaMarcus Aldridge predicted. "I'm going on record and saying that Greg is a man-child."

When the NBA tips off its regular season on Oct. 28, Oden's Blazers will travel to Los Angeles to play the reigning Western Conference champion Lakers.

Toronto fans will get their first look at Oden on Dec. 7 when Portland visits the Air Canada Centre.

Pace setter

On the same night Jermaine O'Neal made his home debut for the Raptors, T.J. Ford was making his debut with the Pacers against New Orleans.

As Indy continues in its attempt to trade Jamaal Tinsley, Ford will run the show for the Pacers as the incumbent point guard.

The shoot-first Ford led Indy with 15 points, while recording two assists and two turnovers.

Pointless exercise

Hard to figure out why the NBA is staging an outdoor game and why anyone would actually care.

For the record, Phoenix and Denver will gather in Indian Wells, Calif., tomorrow night in what is being billed as the first outdoor game.

Fans can stop yawning now.


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