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Blazers' top pick Oden to miss season after surgery

Thursday, September 13, 2007

BY ANNE M. PETERSON>

AP Sports Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Greg Oden's rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers ended before it started when the 7-footer had knee surgery Thursday.

The former Indiana high school star who was top pick in the June draft went in for an exploratory procedure on his right knee and ended up having microfracture surgery, which means he will sit out the season.

"Greg looked at me as he was coming out of his surgery, and he and his mom, Zoe, probably said 'sorry' 20 times," Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said.

"I could feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. And as a leader and as leaders of this organization, my first thought was how lucky we were to have a guy that cares about the organization that much."

Dr. Don Roberts performed the surgery to repair the damage, which Pritchard described as the size of a fingertip. Oden is expected to be on crutches for up to eight weeks. Full recovery likely will take six to 12 months, the team said.

"At this point in time, we don't see him coming back this season," Pritchard said.

Oden averaged 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds last season as a freshman at Ohio State.

The loss of Oden before the season was a blow to the organization. There was much fanfare when the Blazers got the first pick in the draft, and even more when the team chose Oden. He was Indiana's Mr. Basketball in 2006 at Lawrence North, leading the team to three straight state titles.

A huge, stories-tall jersey with the name Oden and a No. 1 hangs on the Rose Garden Arena. Across the street, a building is plastered with a huge billboard proclaiming "The Road Back to Rip City" with larger-than-life photos of Oden and teammates Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.

"To know that Greg wouldn't be with us, it was disappointing," coach Nate McMillan said. "I was really looking forward to working with him, and developing this team. You know we will still get that opportunity, but it will just come a year from now."

It was Oden's second health problem since the Trail Blazers drafted him. He had a tonsillectomy in July after struggling in two Las Vegas summer league games.

Oden recovered and had been working out in the Portland area. The MRI was taken Thursday after he had some swelling in the knee.

Despite being hampered by a wrist injury at Ohio State, Oden led the Buckeyes to the national championship game. He had 25 points and 12 rebounds in the loss to Florida.

The Trail Blazers were the surprise winners of the NBA draft lottery, and chose Oden over Texas forward Kevin Durant, who went to Seattle.

Pritchard said Oden had MRIs on both knees before the draft and they were "pristine."

"We picked the right kid, he cares about his organization. And I can't (overemphasize) how bad he felt, and not because he had to go through the rehab and all that, but because he felt like he let us down, Pritchard said, "and he hasn't let us down at all."

Dr. Roberts said the area of injury was not large and doctors were able to treat it with microfracture, which stimulates the growth of cartilage. Other high-profile players who have undergone the procedure include Jason Kidd, Amare Stoudamire and former Blazer Zach Randolph.

Oden talked about the injury earlier this week in his blog. He said he had a sharp pain about a month ago when he was on vacation.

"I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want to seem like I was complaining or making excuses for anything. Plus, I wasn't doing anything at the time I realized it hurt, so I figured it couldn't be anything big," he said.

The Blazers open training camp Oct. 2. The regular-season opener is at San Antonio on Oct. 30.

While the loss of Oden was a disappointment, the Blazers were quick to point out that the team still has promising young players in Roy, last season's NBA Rookie of the Year, and Aldridge, who will likely play at times at center in Oden's absence.

"This isn't about one person, never has been, never will be," Pritchard said. "This is about a team, about 15 guys going out there with a single vision, a single purpose."



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