Blazers take OSU big man with first pick
By By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK — The Portland Trail Blazers got Greg Oden and felt like they won a championship.
The Seattle SuperSonics settled for Kevin Durant, thrilling fans disappointed by the trade of All-Star Ray Allen to Boston.
The Trail Blazers ended months of debate Thursday night when they chose Oden over fellow college freshman 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.
Fans rushed the court at the Rose Garden, where a perennial playoff team has fallen on hard times after some worse behavior. But the Blazers got Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy last year and got an early start on having next season’s winner when they grabbed Oden to play alongside LaMarcus Aldridge.
Even with Durant, feelings weren’t quite the same in Seattle.
Moments after he was picked, Durant saw on TV that the SuperSonics had traded Allen, their leading scorer, to Boston. Fans booed the Allen trade at a draft party for the Sonics, who still face losing Rashard Lewis to free agency.
But the 6-9 Durant, wearing an orange tie to match Texas’ colors, doesn’t consider himself the Sonics’ savior.
Oden 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.
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.
Joining Durant to help the Sonics rebuild is Georgetown’s Jeff Green, picked by Boston with the No. 5 pick. Durant knows Green from growing up in the Washington, D.C. area.
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 became the first school with three players selected in the top 10 of the same draft.
They made it when Corey Brewer went to Minnesota at No. 7 and Joakim Noah — donning a brown bow tie and getting a huge reaction from his hometown crowd — was taken by Chicago two picks later.
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.
Atlanta finally grabbed that point guard by taking Acie Law at No. 11 — the first college senior taken.
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.
Milwaukee also ignored concerns that Yi only wanted to play in a major market with a large Asian population. He didn’t even work out for the Bucks.
Charlotte took North Carolina’s Brandan Wright at No. 8, and Washington center Spencer Hawes was picked by Sacramento, the fourth and fifth freshmen in the top 10.
Ohio State’s Daequan Cook went to Philadelphia at No. 21, giving both national championship-game teams three players in the first round. His rights later were sent to Miami for the rights to Jason Smith of Colorado State, taken by the Heat with the 20th pick.
Thaddeus Young (Philadelphia, No. 12) and Javaris Crittenton (Los Angeles Lakers, No. 19) gave Georgia Tech two first-rounders. Sean Williams (No. 17, New Jersey) and Jared Dudley (No. 22, Charlotte) did the same for Boston College — though Williams was kicked off the team last season for rules violations.