Oden goes to Trail Blazers at No. 1 | VailDaily.com

Oden goes to Trail Blazers at No. 1

Brian Mahoney
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Rick Bowmer/AP PhotoPortland Trail Blazers fans react after the team selected Ohio State's Greg Oden as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA basketball draft Thursday.

NEW YORK – Greg Oden is the 1.

The Portland Trail Blazers settled months of debate Thursday night when they chose Oden over fellow college freshman Kevin Durant with the No. 1 pick in a highly anticipated NBA draft.

Portland opted for the 7-footer who can dominate a game with his defense over the sensational scoring of Durant, who would have been the No. 1 pick in many other years after one of the most outstanding freshman seasons in NCAA history.

But franchise centers are hard to find, and most believe the Blazers got one.

As expected, Durant was quickly taken second by the Seattle SuperSonics, who found a replacement if they lose Rashard Lewis to free agency. The 6-9 forward, wearing an orange tie to match Texas’ colors, averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds, ranking fourth nationally in both categories, and is considered the most talented player in the draft.

But that wasn’t enough to beat out Oden, who led Ohio State to the national championship game despite never playing at full strength after surgery on his right wrist. Still, he averaged 15.7 points and shot nearly 62 percent while drawing comparisons to Bill Russell for his rebounding and shot blocking abilities.

Looking nervous and battling a head cold since arriving in New York, Oden shared a long handshake with commissioner David Stern before heading off for interviews. He was expected to fly to Portland later Thursday night.

Oden could have been the top pick last year out of high school if not for the NBA’s age requirement rule.

“I’m a better player because of that year in college,” Oden said. “Coach (Thad) Matta, he taught me so much, first about being a young man growing up in Columbus.”

The Pacific Northwest rivals got an immediate jump-start to their rebuilding plans by moving up in last month’s lottery to grab the top two picks. Though this is considered the deepest draft in years, Oden and Durant are regarded as the only can’t-miss players.

And the Sonics may be adding another top-five pick.

Big East player of the year Jeff Green of Georgetown went to the Celtics with the No. 5 pick ” though there was no guarantee he’d play for Boston. The Celtics have been mentioned in a number of trade rumors, including one with Seattle, and Green said in an interview he’d be playing for “another green” ” meaning he expected to join Durant with the Sonics.

The Atlanta Hawks used the No. 3 pick, their first of two in the lottery on Al Horford, who saluted the pro-Florida crowd with the Gator chomp. The two-time defending NCAA champions were hoping to become the first school with three players selected in the top 10 of the same draft.

The Hawks passed on Michael Conley Jr., even though they still need a point guard after passing on Chris Paul and Deron Williams two years ago. The Memphis Grizzlies then grabbed Conley, Oden’s teammate since their junior high days and the third freshman in the top four picks.

The Milwaukee Bucks took a chance at No. 6 on the draft’s mystery player, Chinese forward Yi Jianlian. Though Yi was getting plenty of attention ” half of the record 60 international media members were from China ” he came with plenty of question marks. He hasn’t played against top competition in the Chinese leagues, and he is rumored to be older than the 19 he is listed.

“I think I’m ready. I played Olympics, I played world championship,” Yi said. “I think I can play in the NBA.”

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