The Associated Press
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.
“I was on the phone with the radio station back in Portland,” Oden said. “They said they stomped the floor like they won the NBA championship once they called my name.”
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.
“They did have a bad (reputation), but I think Brandon and LaMarcus kind of turned that around,” Oden said. “I hope that I can come and just push that along some more.”
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.
“Not at all, not at all,” Durant said. “When you play since you were 8 or 9 years old, you know the game is not a one-man sport. I’m far from being a 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.
“I’m a better player because of that year in college,” Oden said. “Coach (Thad) Matta, he taught me so much, first about being a young man growing up in Columbus.”
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.
“I know Jeff pretty well, on a D.C. Blue Devils team, and we gained a friendship from there,” Durant said. “He’s a great player, and I can’t wait to play with him.”
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.
“This is an unbelievable experience” Horford said. “Winning two national championships. Moving up to the next level is unreal.”
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.
“Freshmen are very, very talented,” Law said. “I think in the draft, it’s all about position and what a team needs, and you see some great, great players in this draft. I’m happy with the team that I went to and just happy to get to Atlanta and help turn that franchise around.”
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.
“It’s a surprise to me as well, because when I was in China, Milwaukee didn’t come to watch me play or work out,” Yi said. “Myself, I’m not really familiar with the city, but I’m happy with the team and I’m happy to play in the NBA.”
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.
Ohio State’s Oden taken with 1st pick