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Greg Oden reflects on journey back to basketball with Big3, find new perspective

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Mr. Basketball from Lawrence North High School returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on June 23, 2019
Courtesy of the Big 3, Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS — Bankers Life Fieldhouse is where Greg Oden grew up watching the Indiana Pacers. It’s where he helped Lawrence North win three state titles and earned his Indiana Mr. Basketball and Mr. Basketball USA titles in 2006.

It’s where Oden still calls home and the fans Sunday welcomed him back with open arms.

Sunday’s Big3 action was the first time the former No. 1 draft pick stepped on the floor at Bankers Life since March 26, 2014, when he played against the Pacers as a member of the Miami Heat during his final NBA season.

Oden announced his retirement from basketball in 2016 after a one-year stint in the Chinese Basketball Association. His only other playing experience came last summer during The Basketball Tournament 2018 – a $2 million winner-take-all single elimination tournament.

Following the Aliens’ 10-point loss Sunday in Ice Cube’s 3-on-3, halfcourt league, where Oden finished with eight points and six rebounds, he was asked about his perspective being able to play basketball again.

He paused.

“I saw my daughter walk down the stairs with my wife and it put a big smile on my face,” he said. “That’s my perspective. All this stuff is just extra.”

Quite a bit has changed for Oden in the past three years.

He’s stayed close to the game, finishing a stint as a student coach for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, who he helped lead to a national championship game appearance in 2007, earlier this year. He graduated, earning his degree in sports industry in May. He had his first child, Londyn, in 2016, and married his wife Sabrina in 2017.

Oden climbed his way out of alcoholism and has worked on his physical and mental health. That’s why, even after playing basketball against professional-level competition for the first time in years, he took some time to reflect. 

“It’s more about my mind and perspective of life and what I’m doing and what I spent most of my time with. That’s what’s changed for me,” Oden said. “I started thinking on the up and up and being better in the mental space a couple of years ago.”

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  • Triplets player Joe Johnson (1) (right) pushes past Brandon Rush (4) during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 1 of 42
  • Triplets player Al Jefferson (25) jumps up for a layup against the Aliens Greg Odeon (22) during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 2 of 42
  • Triplets player Al Jefferson (25) watches the ball after a missed shot agains the Aliens during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 3 of 42
  • Rapper Ice Cube watches the first game of the Big 3, Triplets against the Aliens at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 4 of 42
  • Aliens Andre Ownes (20) dibbles the ball past Triplets Jannero Pargo during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 5 of 42
  • Aliens Andre Ownes (20) yells after Greg Oden (22) dunks the ball during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 6 of 42
  • Triplet's Joe Johnson (1) dribbles the ball during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 7 of 42
  • Triplet's Joe Johnson (1) dribbles the ball during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 8 of 42
  • Triplets Joe Johnson (1) dribbles the ball past Alien's Shannon Brown (12) as he pulls on his shorts during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 9 of 42
  • Triplets Joe Johnson (1) dribbles the ball past Alien's Shannon Brown (12) as he pulls on his shorts during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 10 of 42
  • Triplet's head coach Lisa Leslie yells and points to the court during the Big 3 game against the Aliens at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 11 of 42
  • Aliens Andre Owens (20) pushes against Triplets player Jannero Pargo (2) during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 12 of 42
  • Triplets player Al Jefferson (25) yells to a teammate during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 13 of 42
  • Aliens player Shannon Brown (12) runs down the court during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 14 of 42
  • Ryan Hollins (1) drops the ball after an attempt for a layup during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 15 of 42
  • Aliens Shannon Brown (12) pushes past Triplets player Alan Anderson (6) during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 16 of 42
  • Aliens Ryan Hollins (1) yells from the bench during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 17 of 42
  • Killer's player Franklin Session (6) reaches for a layup during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 18 of 42
  • Killer's players Donte Greene (20) (left) jumps in celebration with Josh Powell (21) after winning the second game of the Big 3 against Tri-State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 19 of 42
  • Killers Eddy Curry (34) attempts a layup against Tri-State Amar'e Stoudemire (1) during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 20 of 42
  • Killers C.J. Watson (32) shoots the ball during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 21 of 42
  • Tri-State Amar'e Stoudemire (1) smiles at a teammate during a timeout during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 22 of 42
  • Tri-State player Jason Richardson (23) shoots the ball during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 23 of 42
  • Killers Donte Greene reaches for a rebound during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 24 of 42
  • Killers players Josh Powell (21) reaches for a rebound during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 25 of 42
  • Killers player Donte Greene (20) reacts to a foul during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 26 of 42
  • Tri-State player Jason Richardson (23) reacts to a foul during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 27 of 42
  • Tri-State player Jason Richardson (23) reaches for a layup against Killers player Donte Greene (20) during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 28 of 42
  • Killers player Franklin Sessions (6) attempts a layup during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 29 of 42
  • Killers player Franklin Sessions (6) attempts a layup during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 30 of 42
  • Tri-State player Amar'e Stoudemire (1) attempts a layup during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 31 of 42
  • Tri-State player Amar'e Stoudemire (1) jumps for a rebound during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 32 of 42
  • Killers head coach Charles Oakley reacts to a foul during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 33 of 42
  • Killers player Donte Greene (20) shoots for three points while Tri-State player Yakhouba Diawara (93) attempts a block during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 34 of 42
  • Tri-State player Amar'e Stoudemire (1) reaches for a rebound during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 35 of 42
  • Tri-State player Jason Richardson (23) reacts to a foul during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 36 of 42
  • Tri-State player Nate Robinson (11) reaches for the ball during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 37 of 42
  • Killers head coach Charles Oakley walks onto the court and high-fives fans before the start of the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 38 of 42
  • Fans line up near the isle as players run on to the court during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 39 of 42
  • Tri-State player Bonzi Wells (6) jumps and high-fives fans as he runs onto the court during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 40 of 42
  • Tri-State player Bonzi Wells (6) jumps and high-fives fans as he runs onto the court during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 41 of 42
  • Fans cheer as player run onto the court during the Big 3 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Sunday, June 23, 2019. 42 of 42

While so much has changed, some things have remained the same. Like the butterflies the 31-year-old still feels when he suits up.

Prior to the team’s shootaround Saturday, Oden talked about how he was “a little anxious.” Stuck talking with the media, he was the last member of the Aliens to take the floor during their 30-minute shooting session. It wasn’t a typical practice, with many of former NBA players joking around greeting members of other teams as they shuffled in and out of the Pacers practice court.

After his interview, Oden hurriedly grabbed his shoes and ran out to join his teammates on the floor.

Those nerves seemed to dissipate Sunday after he bodied up guys like 6-10 Al Jefferson and 6-7 Chris Johnson, throwing down a pair of dunks and causing the crowd to erupt in the process.

“I really didn’t even hear them,” Oden said of the crowd. “Once I started playing, it was just about playing and getting the win.”

That mindset is one of the reasons Andre Owens, team captain of the Aliens and a Big3 player since 2017, reached out to Oden earlier this year and later drafted him with the seventh overall pick.

Former Ohio State teammate Mike Conley told Owens a few months ago that Oden had been working out and might be interested in playing. Oden, in the process of finishing school, couldn’t drive anywhere for a workout, so Owens drove out to Columbus to visit him.

“He looked really well,” said Owens, a Perry Meridian High School alum. “I told him, ‘Come back right before you come to the combine, we’ll have you play with some other bigs.’ He came back and played very well, and I said, ‘All right, I’m going to get you.’”

Oden says he’s grateful to just be able to play again. He enjoyed staying around the sport with Ohio State and, once the Big3 season ends, wouldn’t mind coaching. 

“I just want to use my story to definitely help people, help kids,” Oden said. “Being able to use what I know to help people keep on moving and keep on taking that step forward and realizing that no matter what happens, there’s going to be bumps in the road, you’ve got to keep on moving.”

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Robby General on @rgeneraljr. Contact him via email at rgeneral@gannett.com. 

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