From the opening tip of the 2006-07 NCAA basketball season, there was one thing on the minds of not only every NBA General Manager, but also every NBA fan: Greg Oden or Kevin Durant?
NBA Commissioner David Stern’s newly-initiated “One Year in College Rule” was on display for the first time since its inception, and proved to be one of his single-greatest mandates of his tenure.
The entire nation was able to see two high school mega-stars perform in the spotlight, with media coverage never before seen in the realm of college hoops.
And boy, did they deliver. Both "Diaper Dandy" big men carried their teams to March Madness and ended their freshman campaigns by shattering their already lofty expectations.
Durant burst onto the scene at the University of Texas as one of the most gifted scorers the state had ever seen. He dominated his competition, averaging a relentless 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
Durant became the consensus 2007 National College Player of the Year, and was the first-ever freshman to be selected the AP National Player of the Year and NABC Division I Player of the Year. Durant was arguably the best freshman basketball player in NCAA history.
While Durant received most of the praise individually, it was Greg Oden whose presence in the paint carried his team to unforeseen heights. Oden recovered from off-season wrist surgery and was a beast on the low block for the Buckeyes, averaging 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks for the season.
Oden and fellow standout Mike Conley carried Ohio State to a 35-4 record, its first Big Ten Tournament Championship since 2002, and helped the Buckeyes reach the National Championship Game for the first time since 1962. In the final game, Oden single-handedly carried his team on his back with 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks in the loss to Florida.
Soon after the season ended, speculation began to build as to who would go number one in the upcoming NBA Draft. The landscape of the league had transformed, and surefire lottery teams were trying to lose at all costs. Teams like the Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, and Milwaukee Bucks were allegedly listing their star players as "injured" in an attempt to purposely lose games to finish with better odds of landing a top pick.
The NBA Draft Lottery was more anticipated than the ho-hum NBA Finals. Viewers from fourteen cities tuned in with their good luck charms at their sides, hoping and praying for their franchise to land a once-in-a-lifetime selection.
When the results were announced, two long shots from the Pacific Northwest were named the victors, and the other twelve teams were left standing remorsefully on the sidelines. The Portland Trail Blazers were awarded the first pick and the Seattle Supersonics won the second.
The next month saw intense workouts, interviews, physicals, and at least one daily column on who the Blazers should select among the two can't-miss prospects. When Draft Day came, the Blazers went with Oden. The Sonics were more than enamored with being stuck with Durant.
The Oden-Durant controversy was one of the biggest sports stories in 2007. It encapsulated not only the collegiate hoops world, but also the entire NBA. Fans of all levels of basketball were fortunate to watch these two teenagers, and often found themselves hoping their favorite professional team would lose enough games to be awarded one of these two potential Hall of Fame athletes.
This provided an unforeseen dynamic to the professional season, as teams began to value losing more than winning, while it provided a jolt in the arm of college basketball. Most importantly, it left fans on the edge of their seat, waiting to see which two teams would claim the keys to future NBA success—even despite Greg Oden’s unfortunate injury that will delay his NBA debut one year.