News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 15, 2007

Given to Fly: Oden trying to make the right decision

By Craig Pearson

Greg Oden is turning to family, friends and his coach to make the right decision about his future basketball career.

But Oden, whose basketball talents were spawned here in Terre Haute, is without a friend who was there for the 19-year-old from the beginning of his basketball playing days at the Terre Haute Boys Club.

Travis Smith’s life tragically ended at 19 in a Jan. 27 car accident in Muncie.

Oden was there for some of Smith’s best moments on the golf course, coming to Terre Haute more than once to ride along for a round.

Travis’s father Jimmy Smith, a former basketball player at Indiana State and Oden’s coach during his early days, had dinner with Oden and his mother Zoe on Saturday at Indianapolis.

Jimmy Smith said that Oden had plans to meet with Mike Conley Sr. on Sunday to gather information to make a decision, but he didn’t know how soon Oden would decide whether or not to return to Ohio State for a sophomore season.

During diner, Oden brought up the fact that he and Travis Smith had plans for when the time came for him to make the jump to the NBA.

“It’s something Greg made mention of last night,” Jimmy Smith said Sunday. “Greg wanted Travis to come live with him. They kind of had their plans. I actually felt sorry for Greg when he was talking about it. Travis is isn’t here to go with Greg; that’s what life has dealt us.”

Life in the NBA for a 19-year-old can be tough with millions of dollars thrust into his hands. Nothing like having your childhood best friend come along for the ride.

Travis Smith had the potential to be a professional in his sport too as a four-time Indiana state finalist in golf. Oden no doubt wanted his friend to achieve greatness as well.

Watching a guy like Zach Johnson from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, come from obscurity to win the 2007 Masters, I couldn’t help but wonder if Travis Smith could have one day made his own history.

Travis definitely had that mentality, that confidence in himself to make something amazing happen.

After a great round of golf, Travis was never satisified.

“I’ve played good, but not as good as I could,” Smith once told the Tribune-Star.

Unfortunately, he never had a chance to see how good that could have been.

Travis Smith told Andy Amey once that he needed a medal to match the ones Greg Oden earned in leading Lawrence North to three basketball state championships.

During his senior year, Travis Smith didn’t catch the breaks he needed to win it all, settling for a tie for fourth place. But Smith almost led his team to the state title, which would have meant even more to him.

Everyone that knew Travis Smith, has to know that his influence on Oden will be a part of the big man’s drive to succeed.

From what I saw from Oden in the NCAA championship game, the big man is ready to have an impact right away in the NBA — if he decides he’s ready to go for it now.

“I just want to make sure Greg’s happy,” said Jimmy Smith. “I don’t if anybody’s ever really ready for the NBA. There’s been guys that make the transition well and guys that don’t.

“A lot depends on what Greg puts into it. It’s obviously a totally different league. I know a little about the jump from high

• • •



Conley Jr. — If Mike Conley Jr. decides to leave Ohio State, I’ve got the perfect place for him to play. Right here in Indiana.

With the Pacers’ loss Sunday at New Jersey, Indiana is all but eliminated from the playoffs. That doesn’t mean the Pacers would even have a first-round pick though.

In the trade to bring Al Harrington to Indiana, the Pacers traded their 2007 first-round pick to Atlanta. But the Pacers get to keep the pick if it is the 10th pick or better. In other words, Indiana would be one of 14 teams in the lottery and would need the ping pong balls to fall in its favor to get a top-10 pick.

Conley has been projected as high as No. 8 overall. Oden is projected as the No. 1 or No. 2 pick.



Craig Pearson can be reached by email at craig.pearson@tribstar.com. Read his blog on a variety of sports topics at blogs.tribstar.com/craigpearson.